For some aging adults, losing connection with their family is a huge hit to their mental well-being. As feelings of loneliness and depression creep in, not having regular contact with those closest to you can not only lead to isolation, it can have an effect on your physical well-being, too.
And that’s exactly why you should make a habit of talking to your parent(s), even if it’s just a phone call. The far reaching effects are numerous, according to a study from the University of California-San Francisco that researched 1,600 seniors (average age of 71) for six years (2002-2008) to study the mental and physical effects of loneliness.
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What they found was quite sad: 23 percent of adults who reported feeling lonely died within the span of the study, compared to 14 percent of those who had companionship. The study also revealed that 43 percent of those over 60-years-old reported feeling alone. And that among participants who were older than 60 years, loneliness was a predictor of functional decline and death.
They also found that while lonely subjects were more likely to live alone, the majority of lonely persons lived with someone. Moreover, while lonely subjects were more likely to be depressed, most lonely subjects were not depressed.
While persons who are lonely are more likely to experience depressive symptoms, feelings of loneliness are only weakly associated with enjoyment, energy, and motivation—emotions that are central to a diagnosis of depression. Loneliness is also distinct from several quantitative measures of social isolation such as living alone, marital status, and number of relationships. For example, it is possible for persons who live alone to not feel lonely, while some who are married or living with others will still experience loneliness. Loneliness can be explained as the discrepancy between one’s desired relationships and one’s actual relationships.
Researchers conclude that given the number of health and social issues that health care providers must prioritize, the identification and amelioration of loneliness may seem to be outside of the scope of medical practice. “Yet, by separating suffering and distress into medical and nonmedical spheres, health care providers may be missing a key risk factor for poor health.”