02 December 2009

Age-related infectious disease: loneliness

Loneliness can be infectedNatalia Pautova, Infox.ru
Loneliness, like an infection, can be transmitted from one person to another.

As it turned out, elderly people are most susceptible to this disease. Moreover, the more time a person spends alone, the more difficult it is for him to then return to society.

A large-scale study by scientists from the University of Chicago, Harvard and the University of California, USA, was devoted to the health of people over 60 years old. As a result, it turned out that lonely elderly people can "infect" others with their mood: their acquaintances and neighbors subsequently gradually move away from people, eventually being eliminated from society as a whole.

In their work, experts examined the history of heart disease in Framingham, Massachusetts, USA. The data has been collected since 1948, at first the condition of more than 5 thousand people examined with complaints of cardiovascular diseases was studied. In the process, the study expanded and covered about 12 thousand people, as tests determining the degree of loneliness and depression were also filled in by children, grandchildren and other close relatives of closed patients.

The specialists maintained steady contact with the participants for a long time, every two to four years recording the circle of communication and the number of friends, who subsequently became an excellent source of information about the social activity of the subjects. The research data showed that lonely people literally "infected" everyone around with their loneliness. This was especially clearly manifested in relation to neighbors with whom close, friendly relations were established.

"We found an unusual infection that simply forces people to drop out of social relationships and turn into loners," says John Cacioppo, a psychologist at the University of Chicago, one of the authors of the study. "Those close to the lonely have fewer friends, loneliness deprives them of even the few connections they had." Before breaking off relations with others, these people broadcast their sense of loneliness to their remaining friends, who then repeat their path. The more time a person spends alone, the less trusting he becomes, the more difficult it becomes for him to establish friendly relationships with the environment. Society, in turn, displaces singles. This is clearly seen in the example of the monkey population: they drive away those individuals who first moved away from the group, and then tried to return.

"Peripheral social connections can wear out like the edges of knitted clothes," explain John Cacioppo and Tiffany and Margaret Blake, psychologists and co–authors of this work. Loneliness is often associated with many diseases of the soul and body that shorten life expectancy. In order not to become an outsider, a lonely person may need the help of specialists and relatives, says Cachoppo.

"Previous studies show that loneliness and lack of social activity negatively affect human health, especially in old age," explains Richard Sazman, head of the department of the National Council of Behavioral and Social Research (NIA's Division of Behavioral and Social Research), USA. "Therefore, loneliness must be dealt with in the same way as depression. Society should involve those who have been taken out of social communication, thereby increasing their life expectancy," says Cachoppo.

Portal "Eternal youth" http://vechnayamolodost.ru02.12.2009

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