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Loneliness in older adults predictor of functional decline and higher mortality (USA)

June 21, 2012

Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco have found that lonely older adults have a 59 per cent increased risk for functional decline, and a 45 per cent increased risk of death within six years of follow up.

The longitudinal cohort study of adults 60 years or older, examined data from 1,604 participants enrolled in the Health and Retirement Study. Mean age of the subjects was 71 years; 59 per cent were female; 81 per cent were white; and 18 per cent lived alone. Baseline assessments were done in 2002, with follow-ups every two years until 2008.

Traditional risk factors for health are commonly reviewed by health care providers when treating older adults. The results of this research indicate that social supports and other interventions are also needed to combat loneliness in the elderly and improve health. Examples of interventions provided by study authors included treatment of depression, in-home caregivers and methods to improve medication administration and nutrition.

To read the online abstract of the study, “Loneliness in Older Persons: A Predictor of Functional Decline and Death,” go to the Archives of Internal Medicine at www.jama.com.

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