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Senior Loneliness May Lead to Increased Blood Pressure

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Loneliness May Lead to Increased Blood Pressure

Senior Loneliness May Lead to Increased Blood Pressure

June 16, 2006

By: Jesse Ball for Veins1

The risk of death from stroke and heart disease appears to be greatly increased by loneliness – especially in the elderly.

Lonely individuals have blood pressure that is as much as 30 increments higher than non-lonely people, even after symptoms of depression and obvious stress are taken into account, said Louise Hawkley, Senior Research Scientist with the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, and John Cacioppo, the Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology.

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Ways to Battle Loneliness

Do an interest inventory.

Pick one of your major interests and join a group with like-minded individuals.

Instead of having coffee at home, take a trip to the local diner or coffee shop.

Try a change of scenery by visiting a local park or garden.

Reach out to your children and grandchildren and plan a visit.

Start a new hobby.

Volunteer your time at a local organization.

Visit your local senior center.

To those unschooled in medical terminology, these figures might not stand out too much. However, consider this: A normal systolic blood pressure is 120 mm Hg. A reading of 150 mm Hg, 30 points higher, signals Stage 1 hypertension which requires medical intervention.

The benefits predicted from alleviating loneliness in seniors are right in line with major lifestyle changes including weight loss, good nutritional habits and regular physical activity. To be able to add another solution is a positive step and it cannot be emphasized enough for the physical health of the elderly.

However, the obvious question for people in their twilight years is what exactly constitutes loneliness?

In this study, people were asked to rate their connections with others through a series of subject-based inquiries, such as, “I have a lot in common with the people around me,” “My social relationships are superficial,” and “I can find companionship when I want it.”

Lonely people tend to view the naturally evolving difficulties of life, and the idea life ending, less as a challenge and more as a threat. Lonely people are likely to keep their own counsel, limiting their discussion with others to matters not close to the heart. A lonely person often cannot have companionship when they desire it. A simple index: If you decide that you want to go and have lunch with someone, can you find a companion? Many lonely people cannot.

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Facts of the Matter

Battling loneliness can have a positive effect equal to that of exercise or weight loss.

Losing 20 lbs will lower blood pressure by 5 mm hg to 20 mm hg.

Regular physical exercise will lower blood pressure by 4 mm hg to 9 mm hg.

Lonely people can have blood pressure 30 mm hg higher than those who are not lonely, so for those who attempt to reduce loneliness, a similar benefit might be seen.

The difficulty with loneliness was more pronounced in the oldest among the participants surveyed. Loneliness among older people can be compounded by other factors including disorientation from modern culture and alienation from a physically-changing world. For some who have lived in the same town for 70 years, the town may no longer resemble the town of their youth. Many of their friends have died and as their social network crumbles, loneliness sets in.

What can be done to combat this?

There are many social organizations in place for the aging; organizations that present themselves as ready-made social networks. While there are no easy solutions for true loneliness or true grief, organizations like this are an excellent start – a solid way of getting out of the house and making connections with others.

Another way for the elderly to combat loneliness is to take a larger hand in the lives of their children and grandchildren. New interests as well as hobbies can lead to new friendships. Owning a pet, in particular, is a fine remedy.

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