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Lonely Seniors Visit Doctors More

Posted 7/27/2016 by UHBlog

Loneliness can lead to depression and anxiety. See us for advice.

Lonely Seniors Visit Doctors More

Being lonely can lead to certain ailments, such as poor emotional and physical health and memory loss. But did you know it may cause you to visit your doctor more often?

Numerous studies show that people who are chronically lonely often see their doctors more than those who are more socially connected. Plus, the studies indicate the percentage of people saying they're lonely is increasing.

“Many seniors come to me or go to the hospital because they are truly worried about something and need reassurance,” says geriatric medicine specialist Taryn Lee, MD. “While some of these visits may not be medically necessary as defined by Medicare or insurance companies, they are still an important part of a patient’s treatment.”

According to Dr. Lee, depression and memory loss are common problems in older patients that isn't always easily detected. They often show up as non-specific feelings, such as anxiety. For some patients, frequent visits to their geriatrician or primary care doctor may feel more socially acceptable than seeing a counselor or psychiatrist.

“With non-specific symptoms – like fatigue or dizziness – a lot of times after a medical work-up, we may not always find that something is physically wrong,” she says. “If someone goes to the doctor multiple times to be evaluated for the same chronic problem, we still need to evaluate them because there are real symptoms and something that resulted in the patient wanting to be seen.”

How do you know if you may be seeing your doctor too often? According to Dr. Lee, some indicators are:

  • Calling your doctor frequently
  • Asking for follow-up appointments sooner than recommended
  • Coming to the doctor’s office without an appointment
  • Experiencing non-specific chronic symptoms, like anxiety, fatigue or dizziness
  • Taking many different medicines from multiple doctors

“I have patients call me frequently just to ask what they should do for the day,” says Dr. Lee. “They want to come in because seeing the doctor is an acceptable reason to go out and have social interactions while going to the senior center is not. They may get anxious in crowds or think they have nothing in common with people attending a senior center.”

Depending on your interests and life situation, Dr. Lee suggests trying to find ways to lessen loneliness and social isolation. These include:

  • Caring for a pet
  • Volunteering at a place that interests you, such as a library, hospital, animal shelter, school, church or senior center
  • Taking classes, with topics ranging from the arts to college courses
  • Finding groups that are doing the things you enjoy, such as playing cards, dancing, golfing or joining a book club
  • Having people (family, friends, members of a church group, etc.) check in with you regularly
  • Visiting with family more often if possible and going with family members to gatherings or lunch
  • Interacting with others through the Internet using email, Facebook or Skype, if possible

“Some people really enjoy coming to the doctor and that isn’t always a bad thing,” Dr. Lee says. “At the least, it gives an opportunity for both the doctor and the patient to get to know each other better. I think this helps us when we need to guide them through tough times.”

Taryn Lee, MD is a geriatrics medicine specialist and the program director of Geriatrics at University Hospitals. You can request an appointment with Dr. Lee or any other University Hospitals doctor online.


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