Some physicians find that their senior patients often come in for visits without any health concerns. Researchers are now finding that in many cases, there’s a simple reason: they’re lonely.

Dr. Kerstin Gerst Emerson, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Georgia’s Institute of Gerontology, found that a sizable percentage of people over the age of 60 who reported loneliness resulted in significantly more physician visits. Her study is published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Loneliness is a public health concern, especially for older adults, because it can increase your risk of conditions like heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, dementia and depression.

And loneliness doesn’t only stem from social isolation from others. Researchers at Brigham Young University wrote in a report that loneliness involves the subjective perception of isolation – the discrepancy between one’s desired and actual level of social connection.

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Many healthcare providers now see the value in tracking social isolation, but there are still things you can do on your own to take stock of your lifestyle.

Take time to reflect. Ask yourself simple questions like, “Am I lonely?” “Do I find I am often bored?” or “Was there a time when I felt I needed support and didn’t receive it?” Write down the first thought that comes to mind. This can help you make a plan for how to navigate loneliness.

Make a plan. Use the areas or instances when you find yourself feeling isolated or lonely to develop a plan for how you will turn it around. Do you have these feelings on evenings, weekends or holidays? Talk to friends, neighbors or family about making plans during these times so you have something to look forward to. You can also reach out to local organizations to volunteer or participate in networking groups – and Meetup is a great place to find those events.

Use positive affirmations. Revisit those thoughts you had when you were reflecting. For any notes of negative self-reflection you wrote down, write down a positive thought and repeat it to yourself each day until you believe it. The fact is, every single person is alone at some point throughout the day. You are not alone.

Allow yourself to be bold. You don’t always have to have company to get out there, and often times, allowing yourself to do activities alone can be quite empowering. Be bold enough to attend a yoga class, see a movie, walk around the zoo or check out a museum you haven’t been to before. You never know who you might meet on the journey.  

Let help come to you. In some instances, your health may not permit you to get out and about. There are resources available to bring companionship to you – such as personal home care assistance or community care. These non-medical services can help if you’re experiencing limitations with your daily activities, and include help with light house work, companionship, transportation and more. If you have questions about home care in your area, call 1.866.KINDRED (1.866.546.3733) to speak with a Registered Nurse 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

You don’t have to feel lonely indefinitely – it can be a temporary emotion with some effort. How will you prevent loneliness? Let us know in the comments below.

By Dave Inman