A new study suggests that loneliness may possibly cause early death in older people. People who experience perpetual loneliness have been found to be at 14 percent greater risk of premature death than those who do not.
John Cacioppo, the director at the University of Chicago’s Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience, said that his team conducted a study to find the link between loneliness and early death and wound up with some clear health evidence. They have found that feeling lonely–and more to the point, isolated–can cause tell-tale signs such as a rise in blood pressure, an increase in the stress hormone cortisol in the mornings and a decrease in restorative sleep. They also found signs of patients being less restful and overall expressing a greater belief in the meaninglessness of life.
The study looked at more than 2,100 adults who were 55 years or older. Research was controlled for gender, age, socioeconomic status and poor health behavior.
Interestingly, loneliness is still not a regular indicator of premature death as poverty is. While those who suffer from loneliness have a 14 percent greater risk, those who come from impoverished areas are at a 19 percent greater risk of premature death.
Although some people say they are happy to be alone, it is most common for people to derive better health and emotional stability from social situations where they can feel a sense of community with others. When alone, most individuals find getting enough quality sleep to be difficult and, as Cacioppo says, “poor quality of sleep hastens aging.”
The authors of the report also say that this evidence should provide a challenge to the idea that retiring to the sunny communities of Arizona or Florida will result in an improvement of one’s overall quality of life. Moving to these areas can result in the loss of many meaningful relationships that have shaped a person’s life, and the absence of those connections can cause loneliness which can trigger health problems and potentially lead to premature death.
“Not only do we grieve and feel lonely without these people in our lives, but our very sense of self is challenged,” says Psychologist Joe Burgo. That is why, he says, it is not only important to remain active in one’s old age but to remain active in such a way that will foster renewed connections with other people who can provide emotional support and confirm their sense of self.
This information is particularly important right now as America is seeing more and more baby boomers reaching retirement age, a phenomena that Cacioppo calls the “silver tsunami.” If these high number of retirees experience loneliness from factors such as moving away from their long-time homes or the loss of a loved one, Cacioppo believes it will become more and more important for them to find other meaningful relationships in their old age. By fighting off loneliness, retirees and elderly Americans will also be avoiding the many health risks that are shown to cause an early death.