Healing Loneliness

February 8, 2013 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

Who are the healers of our day and time? In many countries, an image of physicians wearing white lab coats comes to mind. But, I’m here to tell you that if you’re exclusively counting on medical doctors and pharmacists to maintain your good health, you’re at a very big disadvantage. Optimally, healing and the promotion of wellness requires a much broader approach. From my vantage point, the person you see every time you look in the mirror is by far the most important contributor to your health status. But, eating right, exercising and managing stress is far from enough. While important, there’s more that you can and should be doing for yourself and those around you in the healing arena.

Common sense dictates that most negative emotions aren’t exactly good for your health. So, it may not come as a big surprise when I tell you that loneliness and a lack of social support contribute to a wide array of health issues. However, the extent that loneliness impacts the physical body may be more dramatic than you can imagine. In recent months and years, researchers have taken a keen interest in examining the physiological effects of feeling alone and socially isolated. The findings are nothing short of groundbreaking. Scientific inquiries reveal that lacking a sense of connectedness and social support hastens: a) the cellular aging process by shortening leukocyte telomere length; b) cognitive decline as evidenced by delayed and immediate recall and the onset of dementia, independent of other risk factors, including depression and vascular disease. Additionally, feelings of isolation increase the perception of depression, fatigue, pain and “enhances the risk for immune dysregulation”. For these reasons and others, perceived loneliness is now associated with heightened mortality rates among sick and well nursing home residents. This latter point is particularly vital to note. Seniors top the list of at risk populations that exhibit profound feelings of loneliness. They’re also the most vulnerable because they often have the least amount of choice and input as to how they can change their circumstances.

The good news is that there is a cure for loneliness. And, every healer that’s reading this (i.e. everyone who is reading this now), has the ability to intercede in the lives of those who feel alone. Perhaps, you even recognize that this is a more personal problem for you. If that’s the case, take this call to action seriously. You needn’t be alone. Researchers the world over have found that getting involved in programs such as group art or exercise classes, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) or simply spending some quality time with animals (animal assisted therapy) can make a real difference on both physiological and psychological end-points. These suggestions may seem too simple to be powerful, but that’s not the case! In fact, engaging in such activities has lead to significant improvements in anxiety, cognitive functioning, depression, inflammation and beyond. What’s more, this data isn’t coming from some “touchy feely” guru or self help book. Every statement made above is based on peer reviewed publications in prestigious medical journals. So, take this potentially anti-aging, life saving information and apply it to the world around you. There’s no good reason for anyone to feel alone and isolated. After all, we are all the true healers.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

To learn more about the studies referenced in today’s column, please click on the following links:

Study 1 - Low Social Support Is Associated With Shorter Leukocyte Telomere (link)

Study 2 - Social Isolation and Loneliness: Relationships w/ Cognitive Function (link)

Study 3 - Feelings of Loneliness, but Not Social Isolation, Predict Dementia(link)

Study 4 - Loneliness Predicts Pain, Depression, and Fatigue: Understanding (link)

Study 5 – Emotional Loneliness is Associated w/ Mortality Among Mentally (link)

Study 6 - Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Training Reduces Loneliness(link)

Study 7 – A Randomized Trial of MBSR Versus Aerobic Exercise for Social Anxiety (link)

Study 8 – Effects of Socially Stimulating Group Intervention on Lonely, Older (link)

Study 9 - Animal-Assisted Therapy and Loneliness in Nursing Homes: Use of (link)

Study 10 - The Effects of Animal-Assisted Therapy on Loneliness in an Elderly (link)

Chronic Loneliness Is Linked to Increased Mortality Risk

Source: Journal of Aging Research Volume 2011 (2011)  (link)

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Posted in Alternative Therapies, Heart Health, Mental Health

5 Comments & Updates to “Healing Loneliness”

  1. Pat Says:

    I’m glad you posted this. As a senior citizen who lives alone, I know how it works. I have taken to inviting family and friends over more often and making myself get out more and that helps a lot. I feel better overall since I started that. I think part of it is having too much time to think about how we feel!

    I’m lucky in that I still have the option to make my own decisions. We shall see about the future.

  2. JP Says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Pat. I’m really happy to hear about your proactive approach to staying independent and well. The great thing about what you’re doing is that it’s undoubtedly helping those who visit you as well. A win-win situation – the very best kind. I’d say the future looks bright! :-)

    Be well!

    JP

  3. JP Says:

    Update: Inadequate zinc linked to poor mental health in nursing home residents …

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4311908/

    PLoS ONE. 2015;10(1):e0117257.

    Serum Zinc Concentrations Correlate with Mental and Physical Status of Nursing Home Residents. van Wouwe J, ed.

    “Conclusions: Nursing home residents seem at risk of marginal Zn status, which correlates with their mental status as measured by the AMTS and GDS. Their low FS is associated with mental health deterioration and obesity.”

    Be well!

    JP

  4. JP Says:

    Updated 10/26/15:

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/hsc.12284/abstract

    Health Soc Care Community. 2015 Oct 1.

    Promoting social capital to alleviate loneliness and improve health among older people in Spain.

    Loneliness is especially frequent among older people in Southern Europe. Furthermore, promoting social capital to tackle loneliness and its health effects is an understudied intervention strategy. Therefore, a complex intervention was piloted in Spain in a pre-post study with a 2-year follow-up. Its aims were to explore the feasibility of the intervention and its short- and long-term effects. It was conducted in one mixed rural-urban and two urban areas of diverse socioeconomic levels from 2011 to 2012. The intervention framework was based on social capital theory applying a behaviour change model and care co-ordination. The intervention comprised: (i) a co-ordinated action aimed at building a network between primary healthcare centres and community assets in the neighbourhood and (ii) a group-based programme, which promoted social capital among lonely older people, especially social support and participation. Older people active in senior centres volunteered as gatekeepers. The main outcome domain was loneliness. Secondary outcome domains were participation, social support, self-perceived health, quality of life, depressive symptoms and use of health resources. Pre-post changes were assessed with t-test, Wilcoxon signed-rank test and McNemar’s test. Differences between the three time points were assessed with a one-way ANOVA with repeated measures. Social workers and nurses were successfully involved as group leaders, 10 volunteers took part and 38 participants were included. After the intervention, loneliness decreased while social participation and support significantly increased. Furthermore, the number of visits to nurses increased. Exactly 65.8% of the participants built social contacts within the group and 47.4% became engaged in new activities. Two years later, social effects were maintained and depressive symptoms had decreased. Exactly 44.7% of the participants continued to be in contact with at least one person from the group and 39.5% continued participating. The intervention contributes a novel and feasible social capital-based approach for alleviating loneliness among older adults while prompting meaningful changes in their lives.

    Be well!

    JP

  5. JP Says:

    Updated 10/26/15:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4577056/

    Open J Nurs. 2015 May 1;5(5):416-425.

    PURPOSE: The purpose of this paper is to present the initial feasibility and acceptability of LISTEN (Loneliness Intervention using Story Theory to Enhance Nursing-sensitive outcomes), a new intervention for loneliness. Loneliness is a significant stressor and known contributor to multiple chronic health conditions in varied populations. In addition, loneliness is reported as predictive of functional decline and mortality in large samples of older adults from multiple cultures. Currently, there are no standard therapies recommended as effective treatments for loneliness. The paucity of interventions has limited the ability of healthcare providers to translate what we know about the problem of loneliness to active planning of clinical care that results in diminished loneliness. LISTEN was developed using the process for complex intervention development suggested by the Medical Research Council (MRC) [1] [2].

    METHODS: Feasibility and acceptability of LISTEN were evaluated as the first objective of a longitudinal randomized trial which was set in a university based family medicine center in a rural southeastern community in Appalachia. Twenty-seven older adults [(24 women and 3 men, mean age: 75 (SD 7.50)] who were lonely, community-dwelling, and experiencing chronic illness, participated. Feasibility was evaluated by tracking recruitment efforts, enrollment, attendance to intervention sessions, attrition, and with feedback evaluations from study personnel. Acceptability was assessed using quantitative and qualitative evaluation data from participants.

    RESULTS: LISTEN was evaluated as feasible to deliver with no attrition and near perfect attendance. Participants ranked LISTEN as highly acceptable for diminishing loneliness with participants requesting a continuation of the program or development of additional sessions.

    CONCLUSIONS: LISTEN is feasible to deliver in a primary healthcare setting and has the potential to diminish loneliness which could result in improvement of the long-term negative known sequelae of loneliness such as hypertension, depression, functional decline, and mortality. Feedback from study participants is being used to inform future trials of LISTEN with consideration for developing additional sessions. Longitudinal randomized trials are needed in varied populations to assess long-term health and healthcare system benefits of diminishing loneliness, and to assess the potential scalability of LISTEN as a reimbursable treatment for loneliness.

    Be well!

    JP

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