Research Suggests Loneliness Is As Bad for You as Smoking Nearly a Pack of Cigarettes a Day

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iStock

Humans are social animals. That means that our friendships, family, and other social networks are not just pleasures; they're also essential to our survival. New research presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association finds that loneliness and isolation may be bigger public health issues than previously realized.

"Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need—crucial to both well-being and survival," psychologist Julianne Holt-Lunstad of Brigham Young University said in a statement.

"Extreme examples show infants in custodial care who lack human contact fail to thrive and often die, and indeed, social isolation or solitary confinement has been used as a form of punishment."

A 2010 AARP study of adults aged 45 and up found that more than one-third of respondents felt lonely, and that loneliness and poor health went hand in hand.

To quantify the impact of loneliness and isolation, Holt-Lunstad conducted two separate meta-analyses of the scientific literature, reviewing a total of 218 studies. Her first analysis found that higher social connectedness is linked to as much as a 50 percent decrease in risk of early death.

The second, which included data from more than 3.4 million people in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia, suggests that social isolation, loneliness, and living alone can be as bad for a person's health as other common risks. (The AARP study also concluded that prolonged isolation carries the same health risks as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.)

"There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators," Holt-Lunstad said.

"With an increasing aging population, the effect on public health is only anticipated to increase. Indeed, many nations around the world now suggest we are facing a 'loneliness epidemic.' The challenge we face now is what can be done about it."

To combat loneliness, experts recommend strengthening existing relationships, scheduling regular phone dates with friends, and signing up to volunteer or otherwise help build community.

Carla Perissinotto is a geriatrician and researcher at the University of California, San Francisco. "Maintaining connections, that touchy-feely thing, is actually really important," she told NPR. "It's hard to measure, it's hard to quantify, but there is something real."

Veterans Can Now Access Their Health Records Through Apple’s Health App

SeventyFour/iStock via Getty Images
SeventyFour/iStock via Getty Images

Apple’s iOS Health app is great for more than just checking how many steps you took during a lengthy walk in the park—it also stores health records from Johns Hopkins, Quest Diagnostics, Allscripts, and more than 400 other healthcare organizations.

Now, Fortune reports that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has joined that list, making it easier than ever for military veterans who receive healthcare through the Veterans Health Administration to access all of their health records, including medications, immunizations, lab results, and other information. In the press release, Apple explains that the app will automatically update the records, so all veterans need to do is log into their providers’s patient portals through the Health app for a “single, integrated snapshot of their health profile whenever they want, quickly, and privately.”

apple VA health app screenshot
Apple

Though the official announcement coincides nicely with Veterans Day on Monday, the change itself has been in the works for several months—the VA released the new feature to certain patients over the summer.

According to its website, the Veterans Health Administration is the largest integrated healthcare system in the country, servicing more than 9 million patients across 1255 healthcare facilities. With such an expansive network, any successful attempt to streamline processes and improve the flow of information—especially when it comes to sensitive, personal data—has the potential to be a major game-changer for veterans.

apple VA health app screenshot
Apple

“Helping veterans gain a better understanding of their health is our chance to show our gratitude for their service,” Apple COO Jeff Williams said in the press release. “By working with the VA to offer Health Records on iPhone, we hope to help those who served have greater peace of mind that their healthcare is in good hands.”

Wondering what you can do to help veterans? Here are 11 honorable ideas.

[h/t Fortune]

A Handful of Lucky College Students Live With Senior Citizens in This Minnesota Mansion

vadimguzhva/iStock via Getty Images
vadimguzhva/iStock via Getty Images

When Winona State University student Ashley McGaw skateboards home after a long day of nursing classes, she’s greeted by an unusual entourage: the elderly residents of a Minnesota assisted living facility called Senior Living at Watkins.

According to WFAA, McGaw and several other college kids live there with 45 seniors as part of Winona Health’s “Students in Residence" program, in which students volunteer their time with residents in exchange for discounted rent. For 10 volunteer hours per month, it’s $400, and doubling your hours drops it to just $200 per month. Not only does that include meals, it also gives students the chance to forgo the usual college dorm building for the stately glamour of an old mansion—their rooms are located in the historic Watkins Manor House, which is attached to the assisted living facility.

For freshman Joel Olson, the opportunity seemed like a no-brainer.

“'All you have to do is spend some time with some really nice people?'” he remembers thinking, according to KARE 11. “Of course!”

As for how they spend that time, it’s up to the students. Graduate student Laura Jensen hosts weekly crocheting sessions, nursing student Hanna Rottier offers manicures, and bulletin boards advertise free tech support.

And, in return for sharing their time and talents, students get to experience the familial affection and grandparental concern that’s often scarce on a college campus.

“They all mother me,” Jensen tells KARE 11 about the members of her crocheting club. “They take care of me.”

Winona Health assisted living director Cheryl Krage sees evidence of this, too.

“I hear residents wondering how the students are doing with their studies,” Winona Health assisted living director Cheryl Krage tells KARE 11. “‘Are you eating enough, are you getting enough fruits and vegetable[s]?"

According to the program page on Winona Health’s website, the program is especially beneficial to students looking to enter the healthcare industry, whether that’s medical school, nursing, social work, rehabilitative therapy, or even music therapy.

It also keeps senior citizens connected to the next generation in a deeper way.

“Helps us stay young – ger,” senior resident Diane Sheldon told KARE 11.

[h/t WFAA]

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