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Positive thinking can help relieve effects of loneliness

October 29, 2012

There are a large number of health risks associated with loneliness, so it should be no surprise that social engagement has become a hallmark of healthy aging. However, seniors who still experience feelings of loneliness have another way to prevent these health issues, and it has to do with their outlook on life researchers say.

The study, led by experts from Montreal's Concordia University, focused on more than 120 older adults over the course of six years. Researchers asked the subjects to fill out a questionnaire that included queries aimed at assessing their positive feelings about life, even in the face of loneliness or illness.

Researchers found that seniors who reported feelings of loneliness, but had a positive outlook, were less likely to have high levels of cortisol and C-reactive protein. Increased amounts of both are associated with diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular illness.

"It's my hope that our research may improve clinical treatment of lonely older adults," said
Carsten Wrosch, a professor in Concordia's Department of Psychology. "Older adults can be taught through counseling or therapy to engage in self-protective thoughts like staying positive when it comes to their own health. That means a better quality of life, both physically and mentally - something we all want at any age."

The findings highlight not only the importance of positive thinking, but also the crucial role that staying socially active and engaged plays in healthy aging. In fact, a 2009 study from the American Academy of Neurology that focused on more than 500 older adults,  found that people who had a busier social schedule and were more engaged had a lower risk of developing Alzheimer's and dementia.