Relationships and Loneliness

While it’s relatively easy, even from a distance, to hire someone to help your parents or older relatives with snow plowing or grocery shopping, that practical help but doesn’t solve a big problem for many older people — loneliness.

If you’re thinking, “Well, Mom is busy every day. She plays bridge and has a book group . . .” you may be interested in a new study from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) that stresses that loneliness results from a lack of meaningful connections.  That is, researchers say loneliness is about “how people experience relationships, not the number of relationships they have.”

More importantly, loneliness can have serious health consequences for older people, increasing the loss of physical function and even hastening death. The UCSF surveyed people from 2002 through 2008. While a steady 43 percent of older adults reported feeling lonely over that period (13 percent reported they were often lonely and 30 percent said loneliness was sometimes an issue), the health status of the lonely changed over the six-year period. By 2008, 24.8 percent of seniors in this group reported declines in their ability to perform the basic activities of daily living — bathing, dressing, eating, toileting and getting up from a chair or into bed on their own. Among those adults who did not describe themselves as lonely, only 12.5 percent reported such declines in health and well-being.

So in this long, cold winter, reach out to your older family and friends. An enjoyable visit or a lunch out could not only brighten their day, but improve their future health as well.

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