Loneliness Hurts – But Can It Kill?

Forty to 45 percent of adults 65 and older say they regularly or frequently feel lonely – and that could be a deadly. A new UCLA study indicates that being lonely causes the same mortality rate as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

“It’s a crazy statistic,” says ER Physician Dr. Travis Stork. “So why don’t we talk about this more? Why don’t we highlight this?”

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UC Irvine Professor of Geriatrics Dr. Kerry Burnight joins The Doctors to explain how deadly loneliness can be. “It’s going to increase your cancer, your heart disease, dementia. It’s the biggest risk factor for elder abuse,” she explains. “It’s awful – however, it’s solvable.”

Dr. Stork wonders whether the loneliness problem is getting worse because younger people have migrated to social media, leaving their older relatives feeling left behind. “You’re exactly right,” says Dr. Burnight. “And chronically loneliness is incredibly dangerous.”

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Ob/Gyn Dr. Nita Landry says we can all do a little to help fight this problem – if we’re approached by an older person who wants to chat, “Maybe we can just remember this particular segment and if you have five or 10 minutes, talk to them, because they’re lonely.”

When you've lived a long life, you have something which most of us don’t have, which is wisdom,” adds Dr. Stork. “One of the best things you can do in this life is talk to someone who’s had more life experiences.”