March 4 (UPI) -- Older people are feeling more lonely, which brings with it health problems and shorter life expectancy, a new poll says.
More than one in four people between ages 50 and 80 say they have feelings of isolation at times and a third of them say they lack regular companionship, according to a new poll published Monday in the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.
Also, poor health and bad habits were more likely to accompany loneliness. About 25 percent of study participants who reported they lacked companionship also said they were in fair or poor physical health.
"More than a quarter of poll respondents said they only had social contact once a week, or less, with family members they don't live with, or with friends and neighbors," Erica Solway, a social science researcher at the University of Michigan and poll conductor, said in a news release. "These results indicate the importance of proactively reaching out to those in your community who may be at risk of feeling isolated and disconnected, especially those with or at risk of health issues."
However, older people who reported that they ate healthy food, didn't smoke and exercised less likely to feel lonely.
Older people who were unemployed, living in lower-income households, lived alone or had one or more children living with them also had a higher chance of feeling that they lacked companionship.
"As we grow older, and mobility or hearing becomes more of a barrier, these poll data show the importance of maintaining and strengthening our ties to other people," said Preeti Malani, who runs they poll at the University of Michigan. "It also suggests that caregivers, spouses and partners, adult children and others involved in older adults' lives have a role to play in encouraging and facilitating these connections."
About 17 percent who reported feelings of isolation had fair or poor mental health versus only 2 percent barely felt isolated.
"We know that social isolation and loneliness are as bad for our health as obesity and smoking," says Alison Bryant, senior vice president of research for AARP. "AARP's own research shows that older adults who are unpaid caregivers, are low-income, or that identify as LGBT are at an increased risk for chronic loneliness."