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In a time of distancing due to coronavirus, the health threat of loneliness looms

In a time of isolation for coronavirus, combating loneliness is becoming a health concern.
People in Italy "gather" on balconies at certain hours to play music, sing, or start a round of applause. Source: ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP via Getty Images

Dan Blazer and his wife were sheltering at home in North Carolina when their neighbors, a couple in their 50s, reached out by email last week to reassure the 76-year-old and his wife that they weren’t alone. Another couple phoned to check in.

“We’re older and we’re perfectly healthy and perfectly independent,” Blazer said. Still, he’s been a bit lonely of late, and appreciated the effort.

“Knowing these people are out there makes a huge difference,” he said.

Blazer is well-aware of the effects of loneliness and isolation — he’s spent years studying it as a psychiatrist and epidemiologist at Duke University. He chaired a committee convened by the National Academies of Sciences, on social isolation and loneliness in older adults. That report found that loneliness is tied to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, dementia, high cholesterol, diabetes, and poor health in general. People who are lonely are also more likely to use alcohol and tobacco and exercise less.

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