A Longer Life is Lived with Company

Those of us in the senior living business find that loneliness is a common thread amongst the aging population.  Many have lost their spouses, siblings and the ability to drive leading to a life of isolation. Hearthstone promotes and encourages active and engaged residents and truly believes life is better together. Here is a wonderful article from the New York Times warning of the perils of loneliness.

A Longer Life is Lived with Company

By ELIZABETH POPE       NYTimes       Set. 9, 2012

YOU die alone, philosophers say.  But you could die sooner if you live your life in loneliness.  Close connections to friends and family may ward off poor health and premature death, recent research suggests.

Loneliness is a risk factor for functional decline and early death in adults over age 60, according to the University of California, San Francisco study published in July.  More than 43 percent of the 1,604 participants reported that they often felt left out or isolated or lacked companionship.  In the six-year follow up period, more than half of the self-identified lonely people had difficulty with basic housekeeping and personal tasks.  They also had a 45 percent greater risk of dying earlier than older adults who felt more connected to others.

The majority of lonely people (62.5%) were married or living with others – an indication that feeling lonely and being alone are not the same.  “It’s not the quantity but the quality of your relationships that matters,” said Dr. Carla M. Perissinotto, a geriatrician who led the study.  You can’t tell who may be feeling lonely.  It’s not just a little old lady living all alone.”

The health effects of loneliness should not be ignored, she added.  “Lonely people aren’t taking the extra step of talking to their doctor or their kids,” she said.  “If you don’t talk about it, nobody’s going to know.”

Other studies have found that over time chronic loneliness is associated with high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, a diminished immune response, depression, sleep difficulties, cognitive decline and dementia.

“In the same way you exercise, pay your taxes and eat a healthy diet, you need to start replacing friends as soon as you lose them, particularly around retirement age,” said Dr. Vaillant, author of the book “Triumphs of Experience: the Men of the Harvard Grant Study,” based on one of the longest studies of aging in the world. Begun in 1938, the study has tracked the physical and emotional health of 268 Harvard students (several dozen of whom survive, all in their 90’s); Dr. Vaillant let it for more than four decades.

The study shows that relationships are the key to healthy aging, said Dr. Vaillant, who advised cultivating younger friends for their energy and fresh perspective. “You must have somebody outside yourself to be interested in — not hobbies or crossword puzzles or your stock account — but flesh and blood,” he said. “That’s why volunteerism is so important — the only way to stop thinking of your own unique wonderful self is to think of others.”