Loneliness Affects Physical and Mental Health

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COLUMBIA - With health becoming a major issue in this election year, new research says there may be a health challenge you haven't considered: Loneliness. It's actually a growing concern around the world. The Huffington Post reported on Monday that more than 700,000 elderly Brits feel lonely and isolated. The U.S. Census Bureau's latest statistics mention that nearly 10 million elderly Americans over the age of 65 live alone. It's something Linda Chapman understands. She lives on her own in a Columbia house. This is her hometown but that doesn't stop her from feeling isolated.

"I feel lonely all the time," she said. "I try to talk to people on the phone when I'm home by myself so I don't just watch TV all day."

Chapman attends Adult Day Connection three times a week to keep from feeling isolated on a daily basis. Adult Day Connection is a program that allows adults to spend the day socializing with others, exercising, attending therapy sessions, and participating in a variety of group activities.

"It's great. We have cooking lessons, we're listening to an accordion player today, we play games," Chapman said. "I'm really happy when I'm here because I have all these people to talk to."

But loneliness effects physical health just as much as mental health.

"When people are by themselves, they aren't getting the needed exercise that they need each day," director of the Adult Day Connection Amy Byergo said. "When people don't have somebody to spend time with, they usually will gravitate towards sleeping or sitting for most of the day."

"It's really easy to just sit on the couch and watch TV all day," Chapman said when asked how she spends her days alone.

A May 2012 study from the Center for Aging Research and Development in Ireland found that loneliness affects recovery from stroke and the frequency of emergency hospitalizations.

"Part of the problem stems from the fact that families are so spread out nowadays," executive director Jessica Macy of the Boone County Council on Aging said. "Fifty years ago, families used to live within five miles of each other. Now, families might be five hundred miles apart and it's not as easy to check in with each other every day."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the likelihood of living alone increases with age. For women, it rose from 32 percent for 65-to-74-year-olds to 57 percent for those aged 85 years or more. For men, the corresponding proportions were 13 percent and 29 percent.

Byergo offers the advice to lonely seniors to at least find one time each day to talk to someone on the phone or face to face.