New UCSF Study Declares Loneliness Lethal for Elders

June 26, 2012
Laura Beck, The Eden Alternative

Last week, the Archives of Internal Medicine published the results of a study involving 1,600 Elders, confirming what the Eden Alternative Philosophy has upheld for many years. Medical experts found that Elders suffering from loneliness were at significant risk for declining health over short periods of time.

In 2002, participating Elders were interviewed about how often they experienced feeling lonely.  Researchers then followed up with participants over a six year period.  Study outcomes revealed the following:

Among the 43% of those interviewed that reported being lonely, “23 percent died over the six-year study, compared to 14 percent of the participants who weren’t lonely – a 45 percent increase.” The study confirmed that the lonely participants had “a 59 percent greater risk of suffering a decline in function.”

To read the entire article in Archives of Internal Medicine, click here.

The UCSF study brings to mind a longitudinal study in 2007 published in Archives of General Psychiatry that made a direct correlation between loneliness and the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease.  The Rush University Medical Study involved 823 senior citizens free of dementia and “assessed their level of loneliness using a 5 item scale questionnaire at the start of the study and each year thereafter for 4 years. They also monitored them for signs of dementia by testing a range of cognitive functions. An assessment of social isolation indicators was also made.”

Study outcomes showed that “the top ten per cent most lonely people (scoring 3.2 on the loneliness scale) had 2.1 times more risk of developing Alzheimer’s compared with those in the bottom 10 per cent (scoring 1.4 on the loneliness scale).”

To access the entire abstract, click here.

The Eden Alternative teaches that loneliness is a plague of the spirit that has the potential to kill.  As these studies indicate, loneliness is without question a serious threat to our entire well-being – mind, body, and spirit.  Hard data like this is a powerful reminder that culture change principles aren’t just “nice touches.”  They save lives.

Share this information with your care partner teams and use it to inspire Learning Circle discussions around how Elders and their care partners are given the opportunity to be deeply known.  How is the power of story being utilized for this purpose?  How are teams working together to create meaningful and ongoing opportunities for companionship?  How seriously does the team take the notion that the plague of loneliness can impact everyone on the team, not just the Elder care partner?  Share with us your creative endeavors in the fight against loneliness and help to deepen the learning for all of us!


3 Comments. Leave new

I could not agree more. What ever happened to the old small village green where everyone gathered to well see what was happening?

While senior living facilities offer socialization to the residents, many seniors who have remained in their own homes have little or no opportunities to socialize on a regular basis. We need to develop ways to bring socialization opportunities into their living rooms, create opportunities within existing establishments and look at our communities as we develop the new concept of cities or burbs. Love to hear what communities in your area are doing to bring active healthy seniors together to enjoy life and live longer.


I train care professionals how to use Compassionate Touch to relate to our elders in facilities or home care. I’ve witnessed the power of human touch to connect deeply to help alleviate lonliness. Even a person with advanced dementia responds to the gift of mindful touch. I agree that our elders who live at home are isolated and lonely beyond words. Maybe we should all seek out our neighbors who may be living with the pain of lonliness.


There are some innovative projects by community centers that help seniors stay in touch with people.
Telewindows and similar programs can be placed in the home whereby the participants could be part of exercise programs, card games, book groups and discussion groups. The pilot programs are working to keep homebound seniors stay socially connected with their peers. Staying connected is a key ingredient for vital aging.


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