In a new study, researchers found that loneliness may be making it harder for middle-aged people to manage chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.
The research was conducted by a team from West Virginia University.
Previous research has shown the negative health effects of loneliness in older people. Loneliness predicts poor health, functional decline and early death in older adults.
In the new study, the team focuses on loneliness among middle-aged adults, rather than the elderly.
They tested 90 participants ranged from 45 to 64 years old. All were patients at a primary care clinic in West Virginia. Each had at least one chronic illness.
The researchers used surveys to measure how lonely the participants were and, conversely, how bolstered they felt by social support.
They also assessed participants’ responses to loneliness by surveying levels of anger and depression and their functional and cognitive abilities.
They found that the men who in the study reported being far lonelier than the women.
Men also reported feeling less enmeshed in a social network, scoring much lower than women on measures of affectionate, emotional and positive social support.
In addition, the lonely men tend to have three chronic illness, and they don’t all have resources to manage both illness and wellness behaviors.
The team hopes the findings can help improve how healthcare providers identify and help their lonely, middle-aged patients who have chronic illnesses.
In the future, they hope to perform a larger study and to test an intervention for loneliness that they invented.
The lead author of the study is Laurie Theeke, a professor and nurse practitioner in the West Virginia University School of Nursing.
The study is published in Applied Nursing Research.
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