Loneliness in old age can be more fatal than obesity

Feb 18, 2014

Many of us feel alone from time to time, but we would not even consider that it could be fatal.

However, a recent study from the University of Chicago is saying that loneliness in old age is twice as bad for your health than obesity.




The study, undertaken by neuroscientist Professor John Cacioppo, has found that feeling isolated or lonely can have significant negative effects on our health from blood pressure to sleep patterns.

Those who reported feelings of loneliness were 14 per cent more likely to suffer significant health complications, including death during the six-year study period. This compares with a 7 per cent increase in risk for obese people.

Professor Cacioppo said that maintaining close relationships is incredibly important in retirement. These human relationships should be placed foremost in retirement plans instead of just looking for a warm sunny climate.

The research followed 2,101 retired adults aged 50 years and over for six years. They were asked questions about the closeness of their human connections and whether they felt they had people they could talk to. The study accounted for their social circumstances such as being married or living close to family and friends. The findings were astonishing with people who felt lonely 14 per cent more likely than average to die.

It also found that those who were married or who had plenty of social connections could feel lonely and suffer the same negative health effects.

“It is not that social circumstance makes no difference, it is that the brain’s interpretation of that social circumstance is more important than the actual number of people and their roles,” said Professor Cacioppo.

Another factor that contributes to the risk of loneliness is the greater morning spikes of the “stress” hormone cortisol. This can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Also, there is evidence that being isolated can make people more fearful of perceived threats, which can affect sleep patterns and in turn overall health and well being.

UK Based charity director, Caroline Abrahams, said: “This American study adds to a growing body of research showing that being lonely not only makes life miserable for older people, it is also really bad for their health, making them more vulnerable to illness.

“We need to do more to support older people to stay socially connected.”

Many people who feel isolated often feel they are to blame, which is can turn into a spiral of deepening feelings and disconnectedness. However, often their feelings of loneliness are entirely not their fault at all and a result of factors out of their control.

Do you sometimes feel all alone? Well, you are not alone and we all feel it from time to time.

Share with us today they ways you overcome loneliness…

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