Chronic Illness, Loneliness May Go Hand-in-Hand for Some Elderly

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MONDAY, Feb. 16, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- For people age 70 or older who struggle with a chronic illness, loneliness is often a complicating factor, a new study finds.

Canadian researchers looked at 121 older adults, mostly in their 70s. They found that feelings of loneliness rose after the onset of chronic health problems -- even among those who had been with the same partner for 50 years or more.

"The quality of our social ties plays a role when it comes to coping with the effects of serious disease in later life. And just having a partner around may not be enough," study first author Meaghan Barlow, of the Personality, Aging, and Health Lab at Concordia University in Montreal, said in a university news release.

The study was published recently in the journal Health Psychology.

Older adults with chronic illness can reduce their risk of loneliness by trying to remain positive about their health challenge and not blaming themselves for the illness, the researchers said. Strategies like those can help them stay motivated to socialize and prevent depression, Barlow's team said.

Isolating oneself is not going to help, Barlow stressed.

"Putting a halt to socializing only contributes to a downward spiral," she said. "Dealing with a chronic illness shouldn't prevent you from still trying to get out there if you can."

She believes that society needs to find ways to help older adults with chronic illness remain socially engaged.

"The fact that loneliness can lead to further complications means that measures can be taken to prevent the effects from looping back around," Barlow said. "Finding different ways to connect with other people also means you are less likely to blame yourself for being sick, and you can't count on a partner to fill that gap."

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging offers healthy aging advice.