Can the Presence of Family and Friends Help You Heal?

Doctors weigh in on whether family and friends can speed recovery.

ByABC News
January 13, 2011, 6:01 PM

Jan. 13, 2011 — -- In the wake of the shootings of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others in Tucson, The ABC News Medical unit polled over 100 doctors today to get their expert responses to the idea that human interaction and the presence of family and friends can aide people's recovery efforts. Below is a selection of their answers.

"Yes — It's Proven"

• David Spiegel, Professor and Associate Chair of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at Stanford: "Numerous studies have shown that social isolation is associated with increases in all-cause mortality risk to the same degree as smoking or high cholesterol levels. Individuals tend to die after rather than before their birthdays and major holidays, suggesting some ability to postpone death for a short period to reach a meaningful goal. Conversely, depression and the associated social withdrawal/alienation is an independent predictor of shorter survival with cancer and heart disease… We are social creatures, and we manage stressors better when we are not alone with them"

• Redford Williams, Director, Behavioral Medicine Research Center at Duke: "Back in 1992 we published a paper in JAMA that clearly documented this, showing that heart patients with a spouse, a confidant or both had a 5-year mortality rate of only 18 percent, compared to only 50 percent in those with neither spouse nor confidant."

• Brian Olshansky, Professor of Medicine, University of Iowa Hospitals: "I think there is a whole wealth of data supporting the importance of human connections for healing and recovery form trauma… The data relate to many conditions and health is intricately connected to a sense of well being and connection to the family, to people in general, to friends and to nature. There is even some evidence that prayer can help connect people and make them healthier but there is a discrepancy on this."

• Michael A. Grodin, Professor of Bioethics and Human Rights, Boston University School of Public Health: "This is nothing new…as clinicians we see a clear connection between mind and body...there is no question in my 33 years of medical practice that support systems and positive belief impacts on recovery."

"Yes -- I Believe it but Do Not Know if There Is Evidence"

• E. Antonio Chiocca, M.D., Ph.D., Chairman of Department of Neurological Surgery, Ohio State University: "There isn't foolproof hard evidence, but I think that the presence of loved ones actively involved does provide an increased stimulus that may accelerate recovery. However, it is difficult (probably impossible) to prove."

• Daniel F. McCarter, Associate Chief Medical Officer of Ambulatory Services University of Virginia Health System: "There are some studies showing benefits of modalities such as touch and intercessory prayer. I have certainly seen some instances where having family nearby seems to make a huge difference for the patient. However, ultimately this is similar to religion and the reason they call it faith rather than proof."