Lonely older adults face more health risks

October 25, 2012

Always look on the bright side of life. Thanks to a new study from Concordia University, this catchy refrain offers a prescription for staying healthy during one's golden years.

Research has shown that lonely are at greater risk of developing health problems but a new study by Carsten Wrosch, a professor in Concordia's Department of Psychology and member of the Centre for Research in Human Development, offers hope. In a forthcoming article in , Wrosch proves that older adults who approach life with a positive outlook can reverse the negative health issues associated with a lonely life.

"Our aim was to see whether using self-protective strategies, such as thinking positively and avoiding self-blame in the context of common age-related threats could prevent lonely older adults from exhibiting increases in and inflammatory biomarkers," explains Wrosch, who co-authored the article with Concordia's PhD graduate, Rebecca Rueggeberg, and colleagues Gregory Miller from the University of British Columbia and Thomas McDade from Northwestern University in Illinois.

To test this, the research team followed 122 over a six-year period. They measured self-protective strategies with a questionnaire where participants were asked to rate statements such as, "Even if my health is in very difficult condition, I can find something positive in life," or "When I find it impossible to overcome a health problem, I try not to blame myself." The research team also measured loneliness by asking participants to what extent they felt lonely or isolated during a typical day.

Wrosch and his colleagues also used saliva and blood samples to measure how much cortisol and C-reactive protein (CRP) the participants produced. These two were chosen because cortisol is responsible for stress-related changes in the body; and people with elevated CRP are at increased risk of inflammatory illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

Their findings showed that, among lonely older adults, the use of positive thinking helped protect against an increase in cortisol secretion. Four years down the road, further tests showed the participants' CRP levels had improved. In essence, lonely older adults who reframe problematic health circumstances positively and do not blame themselves for negative health issues can decrease health threats associated with stress and inflammation. For those older adults who did not report feelings of loneliness, this type of thinking had no effect – supposedly because their social networks may help them deal with age-related problems.

Overall, these findings could contribute to successful aging. "It's my hope that our research may improve clinical treatment of lonely older adults," says Wrosch. "Older adults can be taught through counseling or therapy to engage in self-protective thoughts like staying positive when it comes to their own health. That means a better quality of life, both physically and mentally – something we all want at any age."

Explore further: Effects of loneliness mimic aging process

Related Stories

Effects of loneliness mimic aging process

May 1, 2012
The social pain of loneliness produces changes in the body that mimic the aging process and increase the risk of heart disease, reports a recent Cornell study published in Psychology and Aging (27:1). Changes in cardiovascular ...

Mindfulness meditation reduces loneliness in older adults: study

July 24, 2012
For older adults, loneliness is a major risk factor for health problems — such as cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer's — and death. Attempts to diminish loneliness with social networking programs like creating ...

Recommended for you

Visual clues we use during walking and when we use them

July 25, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A trio of researchers with the University of Texas and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has discovered which phase of visual information processing during human walking is used most to guide the feet accurately. ...

Toddlers begin learning rules of reading, writing at very early age, study finds

July 25, 2017
Even the proudest of parents may struggle to find some semblance of meaning behind the seemingly random mish-mash of letters that often emerge from a toddler's first scribbled and scrawled attempts at putting words on paper.

Psychopaths are better at learning to lie, say researchers

July 25, 2017
Individuals with high levels of psychopathic traits are better at learning to lie than individuals who show few psychopathic traits, according to a study published in the open access journal Translational Psychiatry. The ...

Higher cognitive abilities linked to greater risk of stereotyping

July 24, 2017
People with higher cognitive abilities are more likely to learn and apply social stereotypes, finds a new study. The results, stemming from a series of experiments, show that those with higher cognitive abilities also more ...

Exposure to violence hinders short-term memory, cognitive control

July 24, 2017
Being exposed to and actively remembering violent episodes—even those that happened up to a decade before—hinders short-term memory and cognitive control, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National ...

Researchers pave new path toward preventing obesity

July 24, 2017
People who experience unpredictable childhoods due to issues such as divorce, crime or frequent moves face a higher risk of becoming obese as adults, according to a new study by a Florida State University researcher.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.