Study finds more powerful links between isolation and illness

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Canadian scientists have broken new ground while studying the relationship between chronic illness and abject loneliness, according to new research published Wednesday.

Long-term care providers may extract some valuable insights from their research, or at least take comfort in seeing their assumptions validated about illness-riddled residents choosing isolation over camaraderie.

While there is plenty of empirical evidence about the impact of loneliness on disease, very little has been studied on the reverse. In their study of 121 older adults published in Health Psychology, Concordia University's Personality, Aging, and Health Lab concluded that chronic illness leads to social isolation — even among partners who have been married for decades.

"We were surprised by the amount of literature that examined whether people who are lonely are more likely to get sick," Meaghan Barlow, the study's first author, noted. "Yet none of them asked the opposite question: 'Do sick people get lonely?'"

Among the advice for long-term caregivers, according to the researchers: Encourage the chronically ill to positively reappraise their difficult health situation and not blame themselves for the illness, and help them find motivation to stay engaged in meaningful activities. Both prevent feelings of loneliness.