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New research reveals importance of avoiding loneliness

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We’ve often heard that it’s not good to go through life alone, but a new study reveals how loneliness can produce dire consequences.

The Health and Retirement Study, conducted by psychologist John Cacioppo, director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, examined responses from more than 2,100 adults age 50 and older.

He, along with colleagues, concluded that people who feel consistently lonely have a 14% higher risk of premature death than those who don't.

Cacioppo has studied loneliness for over 20 years, and his research also found that feeling lonely and isolated from others can cause sleep disturbance, raise blood pressure, and increase depression. "Poor quality of sleep hastens aging," states Cacioppo.

In order to curtail loneliness as they age, he urges people to stay in touch with former colleagues, maintain meaningful relationships and participate in family activities.

"What's really important is companionship and mutual assistance and protection. Having high-quality relationships with a few people is one of the keys to happiness and longevity. The stresses and challenges of life are more easily endured if we can share them with someone in whom we can confide and trust," says Cacioppo.

Cacioppo discussed his research Sunday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Chicago.