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Neighbors can help reduce the health risks of living alone

In a new study from Rutgers University, experts set out to investigate whether neighborhood dynamics – such as trust and social connectedness – may have an effect on the health outcomes of people who live by themselves. According to Pew Research Center, about 27 percent of Americans aged 60 and older live alone.

“The adverse effect of living alone on health has been well-documented in community-dwelling older adults. A less understood topic in this research area is whether some neighborhood characteristics may mitigate the negative impact of living alone on health outcomes and mortality,” wrote the researchers.

“This study aimed to extend the existing work on living arrangements and health by examining the potential interactive effect of living alone and perceived neighborhood cohesion on all-cause mortality among older Chinese Americans.”

The researchers found that among this particular group of older adults, strong neighborhood connections greatly reduced the risk of premature death associated with living alone.

“Older Chinese Americans who lived by themselves in neighborhoods with low cohesion were much more likely to die earlier than those who lived by themselves in neighborhoods with strong cohesion,” said study co-author Yanping Jiang.

For the investigation, the experts analyzed data from the Population Study of Chinese Elderly in Chicago (PINE). The team examined whether the perception of trust and connection among neighbors had an impact on the risk of death. 

The analysis revealed that participants who lived alone and reported low interaction or connection with their neighbors had a 48.5 percent increased risk of death compared to people who did not live alone. However, this increased risk of mortality was not found among participants who lived alone and reported strong cohesion with their neighborhood.

“Our findings show the particular challenges faced by older adults who live alone in communities with little interaction or connection,” said Jiang. “Enhancing neighborhood cohesion may be a promising way to reduce early death for older adults who live alone.”

The researchers noted that the public can play a role in improving community health by reaching out and being kind to neighbors, particularly those who live alone.

The study is published in the journal Social Science & Medicine.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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