Loneliness can shorten your life

According to two studies published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, loneliness and living alone are associated with a significant increase in risk for poor health and death.

The first study looked at 1604 people with an average age of 71. After answering some questions about loneliness, participants were followed for a period of 6 years so reesearchers could track the state of their health. Almost half of the people followed (43.2 per cent) reported feeling lonely, left out or lacking companionship.

In the six years following the survey, 22.8 per cent of the lonely group had passed away, while only 14.2 per cent of the other group suffered the same fate. The lonely group also suffered more than the others from functional decline, difficulties with upper extremity tasks, and difficulty climbing stairs.

The second study analyzed data from 44,573 individuals, of whom 8,594 lived alone. People who lived on their own once again did not fare as well, but faced a significantly higher risk for cardiovascular death.

“Loneliness is a common source of suffering in older persons. We demonstrated that it is also a risk factor for poor health outcomes including death and multiple measures of functional decline,” wrote study author Carla M. Perissinotto, MD.

“Assessment of loneliness is not routine in clinical practice and it may be viewed as beyond the scope of medical practice. However, loneliness may be as an important of a predictor of adverse health outcomes as many traditional medical risk factors,” the researchers note. “Our results suggest that questioning older persons about loneliness may be a useful way of identifying elderly persons at risk of disability and poor health outcomes.”

The risk was especially increased for younger participants in the study, with those aged 45-65 living alone seeing a 24 per cent increase in risk for death while those age 66 to 80 only saw a 12 per cent increase.

Researchers suggest the difference could be that because living alone is less common in middle age, the single life may mark other psychological problems such as a poor support system, depression and job or relationship stress. For the elderly, living alone could mean you are actually healthier than your peers who can no longer manage on their own.

The authors note that it’s not just a matter of living alone, but feeling lonely that causes harm. Many individuals live alone while maintaining an active social life and keeping in close contact with family and friends – and some of the elderly who reported feeling lonely in the study didn’t actually live on their own.

Sources: Archives of Internal Medicine, CNN, Time, Forbes