Being Lonely May Be A Hazard To Your Health

Photo by J. Bruce Baumann

Being alone doesn’t just feel bad.  It’s bad for you — especially if you’re older.  This is the conclusion of two recent studies that examined the link between feelings of loneliness the risk of mortality.  In one study, Harvard researchers examined data from the Reduction of Atherothrombosis for Continued Health Registry and found that participants between the ages of 45 and 80 who lived alone had an increased chance of four-year mortality.

In the second study, which was conducted at the University of California, San Francisco, scientists studied information from the Health and Retirement Study.  Participants, who were over the age of seventy-one, were queried about their feeling of loneliness.  Here, too, a correlation was found between respondents’ feelings of isolation and an increase in health problems.  These feelings of being left out weren’t limited to participants who were living alone either – 25 percent of those who reported feeling lonely were living with someone else.

“In our typical medical model, we don’t think of subjective feelings as affecting health,” said Dr. Carla Perissinotto, an assistant professor in the UCSF Division of Geriatrics.  “It’s intriguing to find that loneliness is independently associated with an increased rate of death and functional decline.”

It also underscores the importance of maintaining social ties as we get older.  Our friends and family may, literally, help save our lives.

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Alyson Foster works in the National Geographic Library where she purchases books for the Library’s collection and assists NG staff with finding research materials.