Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Loneliness linked to serious health problems and death among elderly

19.06.2012
UCSF researchers find social factors play major role in older adults' health

Loneliness – the unpleasant feeling of emptiness or desolation – can creep in and cause suffering to people at any age. But it can be especially debilitating to older adults and may predict serious health problems and even death, according to a new study by UCSF researchers.

The team analyzed data in the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative study by the National Institute on Aging conducted on 1,604 older adults between 2002 and 2008. The research, published today in the Archives of Internal Medicine, focused specifically on the question of loneliness and its impact.

"In our typical medical model, we don't think of subjective feelings as affecting health," said first author Carla Perissinotto, MD, MHS, assistant professor in the UCSF Division of Geriatrics. "It's intriguing to find that loneliness is independently associated with an increased rate of death and functional decline."

Lonely Without Being Alone

One of the more surprising findings of the team's analysis is that loneliness does not necessarily correlate with living alone. The study found 43 percent of surveyed older adults felt lonely, yet only 18 percent lived alone.

"We are interested in identifying the different factors that cause adults to become functionally impaired and ultimately at risk for nursing home admission," Perissinotto said. "The aging of our population and the greater odds of institutionalization make it important for us to think about all the factors that are putting elders in danger, including social and environmental risks."

Researchers at UCSF focused on death and a decrease in the ability to perform daily activities such as upper extremity tasks, climbing stairs, and walking.

People who identified themselves as lonely had an adjusted risk ratio of 1.59 or a statistically significant 59 percent greater risk of decline. For death, the hazard ratio was 1.45 or 45 percent greater risk of death.

"This is one of those outcomes you don't want to see because it was terrible to find out it was actually true," Perissinotto said. "We went into the analysis thinking that there was a risk we could find nothing, but there actually was a strong correlation."

Depression vs. Loneliness

Perissinotto and her colleagues believe the impact of loneliness on an elderly patient is different from the effects of depression. While depression is linked with a lack enjoyment, energy and motivation, loneliness can be felt in people who are fully functional but feel empty or desolate.

The "baby boomer" generation – those born between 1946 and 1964 – represents the largest population growth in U.S. history. Some of them now are part of the 39.6 million population of people older than 65. That number is expected to more than double to 88.5 million by 2050.

As that population continues to expand, Perissinotto said she hopes to be able to start to integrate social and medical services for elderly patients more comprehensively, and be more mindful of what kinds of social interventions they require.

"Asking about chronic diseases is not enough," she said. "There's much more going on in people's homes and their communities that is affecting their health. If we don't ask about it, we are missing a very important and independent risk factor.

"We don't think we can change genetics, but we can intervene when someone is lonely and help prevent some functional decline," she said.

That's what 85-year-old jazz singer Barbara Dane is trying to avoid as she continues to entertain well into her 80s. Dane's husband passed away in September 2010. She stays active by continuing to perform in the East Bay.

"When your spouse dies, there's a missing space in your heart," she said. "You still want to know that someone cares about you. Connection to other people becomes even more important at this point in your life."

Dane has been an accomplished jazz singer for more than seven decades. She credits her active social life to her positive outlook on life.

"A lot of people around me are aging, and some are not doing so well," she said. "Some who never developed social skills are having the hardest time and those are the ones we need to watch out for."

"People my age need to appreciate who they are," she said. "Everyone has some skill and if they want to expand their horizons, they need to figure out what they can use to pull themselves back into the stream of life."

The mean age of the 1,604 participants in the study was 71 years. Researchers limited their analysis to participants 60 and older. Eighty-one percent were Caucasian, 11 percent African American, six percent Hispanic, and two percent of unknown ethnicity.

Co-authors are Kenneth Covinsky, MD, MPH, of the UCSF Division of Geriatrics and the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center; and Irena Stijacic Cenzer, MA, of the UCSF Division of Geriatrics.

This study was supported by the National Institute on Aging (Grant #5R01AG028481-03). Dr. Perissinotto is also supported in part by the Geriatric Academic Career Award, Health Resources and Services Administration.

The authors have reported that they have no relationships relevant to the contents of this paper to disclose.

UCSF is a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care.

Leland Kim | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.ucsf.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Self-organising system enables motile cells to form complex search pattern
07.05.2019 | Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster

nachricht Mouse studies show minimally invasive route can accurately administer drugs to brain
02.05.2019 | Johns Hopkins Medicine

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New studies increase confidence in NASA's measure of Earth's temperature

A new assessment of NASA's record of global temperatures revealed that the agency's estimate of Earth's long-term temperature rise in recent decades is accurate to within less than a tenth of a degree Fahrenheit, providing confidence that past and future research is correctly capturing rising surface temperatures.

The most complete assessment ever of statistical uncertainty within the GISS Surface Temperature Analysis (GISTEMP) data product shows that the annual values...

Im Focus: The geometry of an electron determined for the first time

Physicists at the University of Basel are able to show for the first time how a single electron looks in an artificial atom. A newly developed method enables them to show the probability of an electron being present in a space. This allows improved control of electron spins, which could serve as the smallest information unit in a future quantum computer. The experiments were published in Physical Review Letters and the related theory in Physical Review B.

The spin of an electron is a promising candidate for use as the smallest information unit (qubit) of a quantum computer. Controlling and switching this spin or...

Im Focus: Self-repairing batteries

UTokyo engineers develop a way to create high-capacity long-life batteries

Engineers at the University of Tokyo continually pioneer new ways to improve battery technology. Professor Atsuo Yamada and his team recently developed a...

Im Focus: Quantum Cloud Computing with Self-Check

With a quantum coprocessor in the cloud, physicists from Innsbruck, Austria, open the door to the simulation of previously unsolvable problems in chemistry, materials research or high-energy physics. The research groups led by Rainer Blatt and Peter Zoller report in the journal Nature how they simulated particle physics phenomena on 20 quantum bits and how the quantum simulator self-verified the result for the first time.

Many scientists are currently working on investigating how quantum advantage can be exploited on hardware already available today. Three years ago, physicists...

Im Focus: Accelerating quantum technologies with materials processing at the atomic scale

'Quantum technologies' utilise the unique phenomena of quantum superposition and entanglement to encode and process information, with potentially profound benefits to a wide range of information technologies from communications to sensing and computing.

However a major challenge in developing these technologies is that the quantum phenomena are very fragile, and only a handful of physical systems have been...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

SEMANTiCS 2019 brings together industry leaders and data scientists in Karlsruhe

29.04.2019 | Event News

Revered mathematicians and computer scientists converge with 200 young researchers in Heidelberg!

17.04.2019 | Event News

First dust conference in the Central Asian part of the earth’s dust belt

15.04.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

On Mars, sands shift to a different drum

24.05.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

Piedmont Atlanta first in Georgia to offer new minimally invasive treatment for emphysema

24.05.2019 | Medical Engineering

Chemical juggling with three particles

24.05.2019 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>