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Isolated Seniors Prone to Heart Disease

Loneliness, Lack of Companionship and Emotional Support Culprits
WebMD Health News

Dec. 16, 2002 -- The human connection is still a vital link in keeping the heart healthy -- especially for seniors. According to a new study, loneliness and lack of companionship and emotional support figure into the equation for making older adults more vulnerable to heart disease.

These findings concur with previous studies that suggest seniors who lack external support systems have higher rates of death caused by heart disease. This particular study, however, looked specifically at measuring loneliness, lack of emotional or social support, and a shortage of companionship as contributors to progressive heart disease.

Older individuals who don't have social ties or regular contact with others who can monitor health behavior may not take as good care of themselves as they should. They may be less inclined to give up bad habits, such as drinking or smoking, and not have the motivation to adopt healthy lifestyles. As a result, lonely people may subsequently fall into a depression that can, in turn, adversely affect the body's immune system and also increase the risk for heart problems.

The impact on health for the elderly could be far reaching as the lives of older adults are likely to be disrupted by death, illness, and changing living environments, according to study leader Dara Sorkin, PhD candidate, and colleagues, in a news release.

Sorkin is from the University of California, Irvine.

The study surveyed 180 seniors from area senior citizens centers. Loneliness was assessed using items from the UCLA loneliness score, one of the most widely used scales to score loneliness. The researchers found an association between loneliness and heart disease: For every increase in the level of loneliness there was a threefold increase in the odds of having a diagnosis of heart disease. Conversely, when individuals felt they had companionship or an emotional or social support group, the likelihood of having heart problems decreased.

The study is published in the December issue of the journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

SOURCE: Annals of Behavioral Medicine, December 2002.

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