The hidden dangers of loneliness: a lifelong impact on health

Credit: Unsplash+

A recent study reveals a concerning link between loneliness and increased risks of serious illness and death in middle and later years.

This research, led by Lindsay Kobayashi from the University of Michigan, adds new understanding of loneliness and its long-term impacts.

The study used data from over 9,000 individuals aged 50 and above, part of the US Health and Retirement Study, which is a highly regarded source of information on aging in the United States.

The researchers focused on loneliness reported by participants over eight years (1996-2004) and then observed their health and mortality risk up to 2019.

Participants were categorized into four groups based on how often they felt lonely: never, once, twice, or three or more times.

Surprisingly, those who reported feeling lonely more frequently had a much higher risk of dying earlier than those who reported less or no loneliness.

Specifically, there were 106 excess deaths when loneliness was reported once, 202 excess deaths with two reports of loneliness, and 288 excess deaths with three or more reports over the eight years.

Kobayashi points out that loneliness isn’t a fixed state but can change over time. The study’s eight-year timeline allowed for an examination of the cumulative effects of loneliness.

The results were startling to the researchers, as loneliness is a preventable condition. The excess deaths related to loneliness underscore the importance of addressing this issue.

The study comes at a critical time when life expectancy in the US is at historically low levels, and loneliness is being recognized as a global health crisis by both the US Surgeon General and the World Health Organization.

With an aging population, there’s an increasing concern that loneliness will rise as people experience the loss of meaningful roles in life, like retirement from work.

Kobayashi emphasizes that living alone or preferring solitude is different from feeling lonely. It’s the sense of needing social interaction and purpose and not having it that can be detrimental to health.

As people age and transition out of active social roles, finding meaningful replacements and maintaining family connections become crucial.

To combat this growing issue, Kobayashi suggests several interventions. Age-friendly communities and urban planning that incorporate older people can help. Making physical environments more accessible and offering places for social interaction are essential steps. A cultural shift in how society views and values older adults is also vital.

Moreover, extending the working life, especially for the aging Baby Boomer generation, could provide benefits. Policy changes supporting these shifts are necessary.

If you care about mental health, please read studies about how dairy foods may influence depression risk, and B vitamins could help prevent depression and anxiety.

For more information about mental health, please see recent studies that ultra-processed foods may make you feel depressed, and extra-virgin olive oil could reduce depression symptoms.

The research findings can be found in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Copyright © 2024 Knowridge Science Report. All rights reserved.