Article written by guest writer Rin Mitchell
What’s the Latest Development?
In two recent studies, one by Harvard Medical School researchers and the other by researchers from the University of California-San Francisco, it was concluded that people who lived alone and had feelings of loneliness were more likely to die earlier or develop some kind of disability. The Harvard Medical School researchers followed around 45,000 people—ages 45-65—for four years with heart disease or who were highly susceptible; the researchers of University of California-San Francisco examined just over 1600 people who were the average age of 71—researchers have found that people who live alone “were more likely to die from heart attack, stroke or other heart-related problems,” also that it was not just living alone that was a factor—“but having actual feelings of loneliness and isolation matters.” It is believed that when people live alone there is no one to make sure they are eating properly or seeing the doctor regularly. For the elderly, living the single life “may be a marker for other psychological or social problems.” However, on the flip side, living solo “may be a marker for strength” because they can be healthier and more self-sufficient than their peers who depend on a support system. Even those who live with others like a spouse or family members can still feel lonely. Both studies indicate an increase in percentages in disability, depression, inability to perform day-to-day tasks. The most concerning rate, which was found in the second study, “the lonely participants were 45 percent more likely to have died by the end of the study.” Doctors admit that they are mainly trained to insure the elderly maintain a good physical environment and "assess how they are functioning"—and that it is not traditional to ask about feelings of loneliness. Yet health professionals believe loneliness is detrimental to one’s health and raise the question as to whether such discussions should take place during routine check ups.
What’s the Big Idea?
Loneliness can be dangerous to one’s health. Whether it is the feeling of loneliness or the actual state of being alone, elderly people who experience loneliness have a higher chance of early death or disability issues. However, for some 80 year olds, living alone has actually made them stronger individuals because they tend to stay on top of their health and are more independent.