Have you said ‘hello’ to your neighbor today? Building strong relationships with neighbors could slash chances of dying early as well as the negative health impact that comes with living alone among older adults, a new study suggests.

Although the exact mechanisms remain unclear, researchers from Rutgers University attributed these findings to the ability of these bonds to mitigate risks of loneliness in older adults living alone. In addition, neighborhoods with strong bonds translate to more access to health information and social support from neighbors which could reduce the negative impact of living alone.

It has been established that living alone is associated with different poor health outcomes such as depression, heart disease, dementia, poor biological health, and premature death.

In the United States, roughly 27 percent of people above the age of 60 live alone, though seniors are particularly susceptible to the adverse health impact that comes with living alone.

While prior studies have found that living alone is a risk factor that contributes to early death in older adults. However, studies on the likely factors that could help lessen these adverse outcomes of living alone on health outcomes and early death are lacking. The researchers then set out to fill this knowledge gap.

For the study, researchers drew their data from the Population Study of Chinese Elderly in Chicago (PINE). This study comprised community-dwelling older Chinese Americans above the age of 60 that were residents in the greater Chicago area. It included over 3,154 participants having an average age of 73 years.

Participants filled in questionnaires answering questions such as how often they see neighbors in their neighborhood interacting outside or in the street and how many they knew by name. They wanted to know whether the perception of trust and connections among neighbors can help tackle the death risk associated with living alone among that population. 

The results showed that old adults that reported the least bit of interactions or connections with their neighbors had a 48.5 percent higher risk of early death than their peers who lived alone but had strong connections with their neighbors.

Above all, the findings published in the journal Social Science and Medicine highlight the salient challenges of older adults living alone in neighborhoods or communities with little to no interactions. The researchers believe that having a clear understanding of how various types of neighborhoods could potentially affect the health of people could help inform the development of interventions to improve health in older adults living alone.

“Enhancing neighborhood cohesion may be a promising way to reduce early death for older adults who live alone,” says Yanping Jiang, lead author of the study.

The study authors, however, see the need for further studies to further examine other potential factors in the neighborhood that could influence the health of older adults as they age. On the other hand, they urge the public to reach out, be nice, and be more receptive to neighbors, particularly those who live alone. 

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