March 18, 2009

Older adults who feel lonely decline

The combination of few friends and loneliness is linked to mental and physical decline in the elderly, U.S. researchers said.

However, older people who are able to adjust to being alone don't have the same health problems, researchers at the University of Chicago suggest.

Social disconnectedness is associated with worse physical health, regardless of whether it prompts feelings of loneliness or a perceived lack of social support, study co-author Linda Waite said in a statement.

The study, published in Journal of Health and Social Behavior, also found:

-- The most socially connected older adults are three times as likely to report very good or excellent health compared to those who are least connected, regardless of whether they feel isolated.

-- Older adults who feel least isolated are five times as likely to report very good or excellent health as those who feel most isolated, regardless of their actual level of social connectedness.

-- Social disconnectedness is not related to mental health unless it brings feelings of loneliness and isolation.