Lonely elders at increased risk for physical decline, death, study finds

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Carla Perissinotto, MD
Carla Perissinotto, MD

Seniors who self-identify as being lonely are at a higher risk for physical decline, death and admission to a nursing home, new research suggests.

In analyzing data collected by the National Institute on Aging between 2002 and 2008, investigators noticed that elderly adults who described themselves as lonely had a 59% greater risk for physical decline, as defined by an ability to complete daily activities. Loneliness also was associated with a 45% increased risk for death.

Investigators said they were surprised to find that loneliness is not necessarily tied to living alone. Of the 1,604 seniors surveyed, 43% said they felt lonely, but only 18% lived by themselves.

"We are interested in identifying the different factors that cause adults to become functionally impaired and ultimately at risk for nursing home admission," study author Carla Perissinotto, M.D., said. "The aging of our population and the greater odds of institutionalization make it important for us to think about all the factors that are putting elders in danger, including social and environmental risks."

The study was published Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

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