Human Journey

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.

  • baz

    i find it quiet extraordanary that older people dont take up new technology,like the internet,and learn more about the world today,and also communicate with other people,ie social networks and family.it was the best thing i did,i am 72 years old next month,and i would recomend it to all …

  • John Daciuk

    The key here is the word “feelings” of isolation. Many people who are married feel frustrated and isolate and many who are single don’t necessarily feel isolated. If you read “Going Solo”, a lot of research is explained about this, like the fact that single people tend to socialize and go out more often than non single. Couple this with the data that shows married women don’t live as long as single ones, you realize you don’t have a complete picture and can look at things both ways. More than likely it is these feelings of isolation, depression and other mental stress that affects our physical well being. I believe this can be experienced whether single or not and can (and should) be worked on wether you’re married or not. I also agree with the comment about using technology. Studies have shown technology helps people, especially the elderly, avoid feelings of isolation if used in certain ways.

    But I wouldn’t stress the word “feeling” enough here. It’s a feeling, whether real or percieved that affects us.

  • John Daciuk

    The key here is the word “feelings” of isolation. Many people who are married feel frustrated and isolated and many who are single don’t necessarily feel isolated. If you read “Going Solo”, a lot of research is explained about this, like the fact that single people tend to socialize and go out more often than non single. Couple this with the data that shows married women don’t live as long as single ones, you realize you don’t have a complete picture and can look at things both ways. More than likely it is these feelings of isolation, depression and other mental stress that affects our physical well being. I believe this can be experienced whether single or not and can (and should) be worked on wether you’re married or not. I also agree with the comment about using technology. Studies have shown technology helps people, especially the elderly, avoid feelings of isolation if used in certain ways.

    But I wouldn’t stress the word “feeling” enough here. It’s a feeling, whether real or percieved that affects us.

  • bee

    Good for you, baz. I have been encouraging my friends in their 70’s and 80’s to learn about the Internet. They find it too much of a hassle, which is too bad…

  • Tom

    I think social networks like facebook is good for older people if they have friends and family on it too.

  • Geofilia

    Isn’t this classic bad science? I worry correlations may have been drawn here that are actually simply ooincidence. It might not be the loneliness that is causing people to die sooner. It might be that they are an anxious person, or a person who has already suffered ill health, or numerous difficulties in life, and it is for this reasons that they are both likely to die earlier, and that they have ended up living alone. It doesn’t necessarily follow that if they suddenly found someone to live with their mortality risk would reduce. Their mortality risk may already be set due to other reasons.

  • Amber Khan

    Still feel like its biased study.

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