Loneliness not only hurts — it may be lethal for seniors.
A new study finds that loneliness in those over the age of 60 appears associated with increased risks of functional decline and death.
Carla M. Perissinotto, M.D., M.H.S., of the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues examined the relationship between loneliness and the risk of functional decline and death in older individuals in a study of 1,604 participants in the Health and Retirement Study.
The participants, with an average age of 71, were asked if they felt left out, isolated or were lacking in companionship. About 43 percent reported feeling lonely, according to the study results.
Loneliness was associated with an increased risk of death over the six-year follow-up period (22.8 percent vs. 14.2 percent), the researchers noted.
Loneliness also was associated with functional decline, including participants being more likely to experience decline in the activities of daily living (24.8 percent vs. 12.5 percent), develop difficulties with upper extremity tasks (41.5 percent vs. 28.3 percent) and difficulty in stair climbing (40.8 percent vs. 27.9 percent).
“Loneliness is a common source of suffering in older persons,” the researchers said in the study, which was published in Online First by Archives of Internal Medicine.
“We demonstrated that it is also a risk factor for poor health outcomes, including death and multiple measures of functional decline.”
The researchers note that loneliness is not assessed routinely by doctors, but should be.
“Loneliness may be as an important of a predictor of adverse health outcomes as many traditional medical risk factors,” the researchers note.
“Our results suggest that questioning older persons about loneliness may be a useful way of identifying elderly persons at risk of disability and poor health outcomes.”