Posted July 27, 2015
A recent study done by the University of Georgia reveals seniors that are chronically lonely visit the doctor more often than those who feel more socially connected. Taking steps to reduce loneliness among older adults may lead to significantly fewer doctor visits and lower health care costs.
Of the program participants identified in this study as being "chronically lonely," there were noted to be more hospital visits, but not an increase in hospitalizations. According to the researchers, “This finding made sense to us. You build a relationship with your physician over the years, so a visit to the doctor’s office is like seeing a friend. Hospitalizations, on the other hand, require a referral from a doctor, and you don’t know who you will see.” Results of the study were published online in the American Journal of Public Health.
Study co-author Kerstin Gerst Emerson, also an assistant professor of health policy and management, said it’s all about the way a patient feels. The findings suggest that health care providers should take loneliness into consideration when seeing older patients for other illnesses and complaints, according to the researchers. “We often assume that if a person has enough friends and relatives, they are doing OK. But loneliness is not the same as being alone. You can be lonely in a crowded room. It’s very much about how you feel about your actual social relationships,” she said in the news release. Emerson is also a faculty member in the university’s Institute of Gerontology.
Symptoms of depression, more problems with normal daily tasks, and being less likely to rate their health as good, very good or excellent went hand in hand with the study subjects that rated themselves as being lonely. Despite the findings and the fact that there are such high rates of loneliness in seniors, it still receives little attention from public health or medical officials.
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