Patients are often on a variety of pills to improve their health. A new scientific paper suggests that an equally important prescription is frequent interaction with family members and the community.
In a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, Dr. Carla Perissinotto, assistant professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco, and some of her colleagues show that elderly patients who report more feelings of loneliness have a higher risk of declining health and death.
The authors used national data from more than 1,500 patients 60 years old or older. Patients were followed for six years and reported if they were lonely based on a standard questionnaire.
Interestingly, more than one in three patients reported feeling lonely. After controlling for differences such as gender, income and medical conditions among patients, researchers found that patients who were lonely were more likely to have a poorer functional status – for example, less able to live independently and perform daily tasks such as bathing or eating.
Patients who were more lonely had a 45 percent higher risk of death during the six-year follow-up period.
Dr. Perissinotto’s results show that meaningful relationships as we grow older are important to our health.
Unfortunately, a large percentage of elderly Americans suffer from loneliness, causing their functional status to decline over time and contributing to a higher risk of death.
Initiatives like group meals, senior center activities and volunteering can help fight loneliness in the elderly and improve the health of our community.
On a personal level, next time you think about eating out for dinner on Sunday night, go to grandma’s place instead.
ANANT MANDAWAT, A GRADUATE OF LAKESIDE HIGH SCHOOL AND YALE UNIVERSITY’S MEDICAL SCHOOL, IS A DOCTOR OF INTERNAL MEDICINE AT MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL.