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Loneliness Increases Risk Of Early Death In Elderly, Says Study

Loneliness is the first thing which God's eye named not good, said John Milton. Without a doubt, being lonely is bad for a person's health. Loneliness can affect people of all ages, but older people are especially vulnerable.

A study, conducted by researchers led by psychologist John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago, has found that extreme loneliness can increase an older person's chances of premature death by 14 percent. This impact of loneliness on premature death is nearly as strong as the impact of disadvantaged socioeconomic status, which increases the chances of dying early by 19 percent, say the researchers.

According to Cacioppo, feeling isolated from others can disrupt sleep, elevate blood pressure, increase morning rises in the stress hormone cortisol, alter gene expression in immune cells, increase depression and lower overall subjective well-being.

Staying in touch with former co-workers, taking part in family traditions and sharing good times with family and friends are some of the ways by which older people can avoid the consequences of loneliness, suggests Cacioppo.

"People have to think about how to protect themselves from depression, low subjective well-being and early mortality," says Cacioppo.

Given the fact that the country is facing a rising tide of baby boomers and witnessing an enormous demographic shift (the "silver tsunami"), the study findings on the role of loneliness on elderly people's health and wellbeing become more relevant.

The research findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in downtown Chicago.

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