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July 10, 2012 05:45 PM

Can Loneliness Shorten Your Life?

sioux falls, sd

Feeling lonely can impact your mental and physical health. Two new studies found those who report feeling lonely or living alone have a higher risk of dying early.

Lawrence Sorenson is a proud grandfather and World War II veteran. While he endured hardships on the battlefield, the loss of his wife of 56 years was the most difficult battle of Sorenson's life. He says he felt lonely even though other family members were nearby.

"I see that loneliness is a very significant issue for many of our people," Chaplain Kristi Gullickson said.

Gullickson is the chaplain at Avera Prince of Peace, where Sorenson lives. She's helped not only Sorenson but many others.

"They often have dealt with losses of family members, perhaps a spouse or close friend, and that promotes loneliness," Gullickson said.

While losing a loved one can make you feel lonely, there are other causes for loneliness.

"It's not just people who are alone, and the study pointed to that.  It's perceived loneliness, so even those who are in relationships or cohabitating with somebody else," Avera Therapist Tomas Holtberg said.

Holtberg says if you're feeling lonely, you should get involved in the community, either by volunteering or community groups. He also recommends interacting on the internet with others or getting a pet. Holtberg warns that relationships with people are more beneficial than pets though. You should also look into whether there's something interfering with your relationships.

"So from a therapeutic standpoint the important thing to look at is, are there any skill deficits social-wise, like do we need to build skills with this person to relate with other people more effectively," Holtberg said.

For Sorenson, simply having people such as Gullickson to talk to and listen helped.

"I think one of the greatest gifts we can give anybody is listening, uninterrupted time together and hear what they're thinking about and feeling," Gullickson said.

Holtberg says if you have a loved one who's dealing with loneliness but is miles away, the best thing you can do is have regular communication with them.  You should set aside certain days where you make sure you call them.

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