Nearly half of all Israelis aged 57 and up feel lonely during the week, according to a study that will be presented on Monday afternoon at a 50th anniversary conference of the Hebrew University School of Social Work in Jerusalem. Because many families get together on the weekend, they are less lonely during that time. The phenomenon is especially common in women, people over the age of 75, widowers/widows, divorced people and Arabs. Surprisingly, almost two-thirds of couples over 57 who lived together without being married said they were lonely, compared to half of the divorced people. Dr. Sharon Shayovitz-Ezra will lecture on her study at the two-day conference, which opened on Sunday and deals with "Changes and Challenges in Education, Research, Clinical Practice and Social Work Policy." She said her research was the first of its kind on the phenomenon in Israel. Previous studies carried out elsewhere have shown that loneliness in the elderly can cause physical and mental problems, including hypertension, cardiac illness, depression and sleeplessness. Forty-five percent of those studied said they had felt lonely during the previous week; 12% in this age group said loneliness was a regular part of life; while 5% said they always feel lonely. Shayovitz-Ezra said the Israeli figures were similar to those in Italy, France and Austria, but higher than in the US, the Netherlands and Germany. Divorced or separated Israelis are most likely to be lonely (90%), followed by widowers (70%), Arabs over 57 (66%), women over 57 (50%) and those aged 75 to 85 (50%). Shayovitz-Ezra suggested that a new policy of free public transport be set for the elderly so that they could visit family and friends more easily. In addition, older disabled people with mobility problems should be provided with Internet connections so they can participated in a virtual social network. She added that social-oriented organizations should work to increase involvement of the elderly in society.