Loneliness Can Make You Sick

Alone But Not Lonely

Man is a social being, preferring to live in groups with a high level of social interaction. We are dependent on one another for everything from food and clothing to health. Studies have shown that people who are isolated and lonely have a higher incidence of health problems. A 1998 study of patients with heart disease found that 50 percent of the patients who reported feeling very isolated were not married and had no one in whom they could confide died within five years.

During the same time span, only 17 percent of those with either a spouse or confidant died. Another 1998 study on women found that symptoms of depression and lack of social support were associated with more heart attacks, open-heart surgeries and deaths from cardiovascular disease. A report has found that seniors, who attend church at least weekly, live longer.

I spoke with Dr. Harry Croft a San Antonio psychiatrist about depression in seniors. He observed that those seniors who stayed busy with a lot of social interaction were the happiest and healthiest. He cited the example of several seniors he works with during an annual Christmas toy drive in San Antonio TX. They have told him that they feel at their best when they are with other people and engaged in a worthwhile activity. The fellowship they feel while participating makes them feel well. Windcrest United Methodist Church is located in a suburb of San Antonio.

The congregation includes a sizable number of seniors. They sponsor a weekly "Sit and Be Fit" class for seniors. The class has tripled in size since it's inception. The participants all agree that they feel better both physically and mentally. They have purpose, have set goals and enjoy the fellowship.

The church also has a telephone ministry for those seniors who are unable to get out of their homes. Both of these programs help to reduce social isolation and improve health a quality of life.

Even the Internet is proving to be a weapon in the fight against social isolation and loneliness. Websites that sponsor chats and forums are among the most popular on the Internet. They help foster a sense of community and help seniors keep in touch with friend and family who may be many miles away.

As one gets older, the social circle they developed through a lifetime will change and sometimes diminish. Parent, siblings and a spouse may die leaving loved ones alone for many years. Most women because of the significant difference in life expectancies can expect to spend several years alone. Opportunities for developing and maintaining a social network abound, especially for seniors. The challenge is to take advantage of the opportunities. Excuses can be pushed aside.

If loneliness becomes overwhelming, it can lead to depression. Depression can make it even harder to get out and make social contacts. Mental health services are covered under most health insurance and Medicare . Your doctor can refer you to the appropriate mental health practitioner.

If your doctor doesn't ask you about your mood or just brushes off any reports of depression you report it may be time to look for a new doctor.