If you have ever asked yourself how to improve the life and longevity of your parents and grandparents, the scientists have come with a very simple answer: just be around them. In the most recent study, the results showed that people who are lonelier are more likely to experience faster functional decline and earlier death.
The study which was carried out from 2002 to 2008, showed that loneliness can indeed kill you. The target group were 1604 participants with the mean age of 71.
These people were visited every 2 years and were asked if in any way they felt left out, isolated or if they lacked companionship and were then put in the ‘lonely’ and ‘not lonely’ category respectively.
The outcomes of the study showed remarkable results. In fact, the participants who were lonely experienced increased difficulty in their activities of daily living (ADL), such as eating, bathing, dressing, toileting, walking and continence.
Another difficulty they experienced was in their upper extremity tasks, such as extending their arms above their shoulders, pushing or pulling larger objects and lifting or carrying weights heavier than 10 pounds. The lonely participants also experienced decline in mobility and increased difficulty in stair climbing.
The study also showed that lonely people had a greater death rate compared to those who were visited by their relatives and who socialized regularly. More precisely, during the 6 year period of the study, only 14% of the participants who were not lonely died, compared to 23% of the participants who were lonely. This means that loneliness did have a strong impact on the participants’ longevity.
As people grow older, they tend to give greater importance to their relationship with their families; and although they show greater tolerance to being lonely, the effects of loneliness can turn out as fatal. These people tend to get more depressed, eat less and function mechanically.
So ask yourselves how much time you could devote to your parents and grandparents, if you knew that this time spent bonding with them can improve the quality of their life and their longevity? People cannot live a rich life if lonely, as we are by nature social animals.
And never forget that whatever life your parents could offer to you was the best they could do. Caring for them in their old age means a lot more than helping them out with their health problems and other things they don’t feel powerful enough to do. On the contrary, the greatest empowerment they need in order to care for themselves comes from companionship and bonding with their family.
Perissinotto CM, Stijacic Cenzer I, Covinsky KE. Loneliness in Older Persons A Predictor of Functional Decline and Death. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(14):1078-1084. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2012.1993