A new study from the West Virginia University School of Nursing suggests that loneliness may be making it harder for middle-aged Appalachians to manage chronic health conditions.
The study looked at 90 Appalachians ages 45-64, each with at least one chronic illness, such as diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure. Using surveys, researchers tracked how lonely or socially supported participants were and then measured levels of anger, depression and how those related to their physical and mental health.
They found that lonely participants scored consistently worse on markers of resiliency, including ability to maintain a positive state of mind and belief in their own abilities, than socially engaged participants. And middle-aged men reported being far lonelier than middle-aged women.
Middle-age is usually a time for raising kids, building a career and taking care of aging parents. In a press release, researchers said the study suggests that middle-aged patients may not have all the resources they need to juggle life tasks and caring for their own chronic diseases.
Lead researcher Laurie Theeke said that if health care providers can learn how to identify loneliness in patients, they might have a chance to stave off depression down the road.
Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from the Marshall Health, Charleston Area Medical Center and WVU Medicine.