Researchers recommend attacking loneliness to lower seniors' costs, doctor visits

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More aggressive interventions with lonely elders may significantly decrease physician visits and healthcare costs, authors of a recent study conclude. And they assert their findings support a growing body of research establishing loneliness as a significant public health issue among older adults.

University of Georgia investigators say they discovered a direct link between elder loneliness and the frequency of visits to physicians, many of whom elders bond closely with to curb their anxiety. Study co-author Kerstin Gerst Emerson, Ph.D., an assistant professor of health policy and management, said she and fellow researchers assumed that elders in declining health fueled greatly by loneliness would naturally have higher numbers of physician visits. The purpose of the study was to determine if those extra visits were made because the elders were actually lonely.

The study was published online in the American Journal of Public Health.

Researchers deliberately avoided studying subjects in long-term care settings. Instead, they worked with data from the 2008 and 2012 University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study, a national survey of Americans over the age of 50, according to published reports. Researchers queried more than 3,500 individuals 60 and over within the surrounding community, focusing on issues about the lack of companionship and feelings of isolation.