Why chronic illness makes people feel lonely

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Montreal, Feb 12 (IANS) Difficult times often bring people closer but a new study has found that the onset of chronic illness often results in sufferers feeling lonely — even for those who have had a steady partner for 50 years or more.

“We were surprised by the amount of literature that examined whether people who are lonely are more likely to get sick. Yet, none of them asked the opposite question: ‘Do sick people get lonely?’,” said Meaghan Barlow, study’s first author from Concordia University’s Personality, Ageing and Health Lab.

They found that while plenty of research examined the effect of loneliness on illness, there was a lack of empirical evidence about whether or not illness contributes to loneliness.

For the study, Barlow and her co-author Sarah Liu measured changes in loneliness between 2004 and 2012 in a sample of 121 older adults who were mostly in their 70s.

Looking at the numbers provided some insights into how self-protective strategies can reduce the stress associated with a serious health issue.

In particular, positively reappraising a difficult health situation and not blaming oneself for the illness prevented feelings of loneliness.

“Putting a halt to socialising only contributes to a downward spiral. Dealing with a chronic illness should not prevent you from still trying to get out there if you can,” the authors noted.

Naturally, the challenge for society is to help an ageing population find motivation to stay engaged, which means recognising that the psychological side effects of disease can be offset with an increase in inspiring activity.

“The quality of our social ties plays a role when it comes to coping with the effects of serious disease in later life. And just having a partner around may not be enough,” Barlow concluded.

The study was published in the journal Health Psychology.

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