The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Hug an Elderly Person Today!

By Alicia Dorr in News on Feb 6, 2007 8:03PM

old%2520sad%2520woman.jpgWhile we were reading a story on the recent study linking Alzheimer's to loneliness, there was a moment when, had you been watching, you could have pinpointed when our hearts broke.

It wasn't that the Chicago-area study did link the two conditions that really got us, but the questions that led up to that preliminary conclusion. Basically, Rush University Medical Center surveyed more than 820 people who were 80 years old or above for a total of four years. The survey comprised mainly of questions ranging from the heart-wrenching ("I miss having people around") to the depths of despair ("I experience a general sense of emptiness").

The study found that, of the subjects they followed, those who scored an average of 3.2 or higher (yeah, that means they probably checked the "depths of despair" box) were 2.1 times more likely to develop Alzheimer's than those who had an average of 1.4 or less. It isn't clear if Alzheimer's encourages loneliness or vice versa, but the researchers are betting its the former: studies with animals found that being alone is linked to higher levels of damaging stress hormones and decreases in good chemicals in the brain.

It is important to take these results into account even if they are only the beginning tests of a yet unproven idea, if only because the average level of loneliness in those surveyed was 2.3. That in itself makes us want to run out and hug an old person, someone who has lived a long time and deserves much better.

And if you have a cold, tiny heart and this doesn't affect you emotionally, then at least consider that loneliness is linked to hypertension (abnormally high blood pressure). Chew on that for awhile, we gotta go call our grandma.

Photo via