Lonely seniors at greater risk of heart conditions

The loneliness often experienced by the elderly has rarely been explored. Now researchers say that two specific aspects of isolation -- limited emotional support and limited companionship -- can break a person's heart. They found that for every unit increase on a loneliness scale, the odds of having a heart condition increased three times.

UC Irvine researchers interviewed and tested 180 adults, age 58 to 90. Interviews and various tests were used to assess the volunteers' health (including the presence of a heart condition) and emotional well-being.

People who believed they had companionship and a greater number of friends and relatives on whom to call had a lower risk of heart problems than those who didn't. These findings tap into two needs, the researchers say: the need for intimacy, which can be satisfied by one meaningful relationship, and a sense of belonging, which usually involves multiple relationships, such as having a group of friends.

The study was published in the December's issue of Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

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