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Researchers use artificial intelligence tools to predict loneliness

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For the past couple of decades, there has been a loneliness pandemic, marked by rising rates of suicides and opioid use, lost productivity, increased health care costs and rising mortality. The COVID-19 pandemic, with its associated social distancing and lockdowns, have only made things worse, say experts.

Accurately assessing the breadth and depth of societal loneliness is daunting, limited by available tools, such as self-reports. In a new proof-of-concept paper, published online September 24, 2020 in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, a team led by researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine used artificial intelligence technologies to analyze patterns (NLP) to discern degrees of loneliness in older adults.

“Most studies use either a direct question of ‘ how often do you feel lonely,’ which can lead to biased responses due to stigma associated with loneliness or the UCLA Loneliness Scale which does not explicitly use the word ‘lonely,'” said senior author Ellen Lee, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “For this project, we used natural language processing or NLP, an unbiased quantitative assessment of expressed emotion and sentiment, in concert with the usual loneliness measurement tools.”

In recent years, numerous studies have documented rising rates of loneliness in various populations of people, particularly those most vulnerable, such as older adults. For example, a UC San Diego study published earlier this year found that 85 percent of residents living in an independent senior housing community reported moderate to severe levels of loneliness.

The new study also focused on independent senior living residents: 80 participants aged 66 to 94, with a mean age of 83 years. But, rather than simply asking and documenting answers to questions from the UCLA Loneliness Scale, participants were also interviewed

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Tips for supporting loved ones with alcohol use disorders

The support of friends and family is important in the journey to recovery from alcohol use disorder (AUD). The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which leads research on AUD, shares information on how you can help a loved one.

Participate. Seek a program to help you support your loved one. Programs like Al-Anon Family Groups or Adult Children of Alcoholics can help people understand the disorder, what they can do to help, and their role in a loved one’s recovery.

Be patient. Changing deep habits is hard, takes time, and may require repeated efforts. Practice patience with your loved one and understand that overcoming this disorder is not easy or quick.

Celebrate successes. Pay attention to your loved one during the recovery process. Appreciate successes, no matter how small.

Take care of yourself. Caring for a person who has difficulties with alcohol can be stressful. Ask for support from friends, family, support groups, or mental health professionals. This is especially important if you feel depressed or anxious. Remember that your loved one is ultimately responsible for managing this illness.

For additional support, check out the NIAAA Alcohol Treatment Navigator®.

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