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Social isolation contributes to illness.

I am writing in response to the article "Stemming the chronic disease pandemic" published in the April 2010 issue of Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand (p11). It was good to see the practical preventative approach taken by the International Council of Nurses in its kit for International Nurses' Day. Eating healthily, exercising appropriately and avoiding smoking are things we can all do to reduce our risk of chronic disease. I would like to add maintaining social connections to that list.

Research has now identified loneliness and social isolation as independent risk factors for a range of chronic physical and mental health problems, including Alzheimer's disease, cardiovascular disease and depression. The effects of loneliness appear to be cumulative over the life span, so that, as one article puts it "... social isolation and physical aging make for a toxic cocktail". (1) This means it makes sense for us art to put time and effort into maintaining a circle of satisfying and supportive relationships, just as it makes sense to put time into exercising and eating well. Older people are vulnerable to losing social connections and becoming lonely through factors such as bereavement, retirement, and loss of health and mobility. Doing so can greatly increase the risk of developing chronic disease because these stresses come on top of the normal physiological effects of aging.

The good news is there are positive steps individuals can take to reduce this risk by making conscious efforts to make new connections throughout their lifetime. Volunteering can be one way of meeting like-minded people, as can going on a course or joining an interest group or church.

For people trying to make connections, it's important to remember they won't like or be liked by everyone they meet. Making even one new friend can make a big difference.

For older people who find it hard to get out, or don't like group activities, services such as the Age Concern Accredited Visiting Service can arrange for regular home visits from caring volunteers who are keen to form a friendship with an older person.

Health professionals can help by considering loneliness and social isolation when doing health assessments of people of any age, and by being aware of organisations and resources that exist to help people whose current social support networks are not meeting their needs.

Louise Rees, RN, PGDipRehab, professional adviser services, Age Concern


(1) Association for Psychological Science. (2007) Loneliness is bad for your health. ScienceDaily. releases/2007/08/0708/17130107.htm. Retrieved 10/05/10.

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Title Annotation:LETTERS
Author:Rees, Louise
Publication:Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand
Geographic Code:8NEWZ
Date:Jun 1, 2010
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