Loneliness can be a major contributing factor in premature death among seniors, says a recent study presented to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. It was found that loneliness can increase the chance of premature death in seniors by 14 percent, which is slightly less than the 19 percent influenced by poorer socioeconomic status. Researchers did note that loneliness is surprisingly twice as unhealthy as obesity. The study was conducted by Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago, Dr. John Cacioppo, and his team. The study compared the meta-analysis of over 2,000 patients over the age of 50 by analyzing the difference between the rates of deterioration in mental and physical health as the patients aged.
It was determined by the researchers that feelings of isolation can trigger a multitude of negative effects on the body such as altering gene expression in immune cells, disrupting sleep, elevating blood pressure and increasing morning rises in the stress hormone cortisol. With the number of seniors increasing, Cacioppo explains that “we are experiencing a silver tsunami demographically” as the baby boomers age. He adds that every day around 10,000 people will reach the age of 65. Cacioppo insists the importance of awareness when it comes to preventative measures. He states that people need to make a conscious effort and think of how they can help themselves from suffering from depression that can lead to an overall low subjective well-being and early morality. The study also found that loss of facilities, such as hearing or sight can worsen feelings of isolation and loneliness and are sometimes accompanied by old age.
Cacioppo explains that it is not necessarily physical solitude that increases premature death in seniors, but more so the feeling of solitude and isolation. The feeling of lacking social attachment to others is what contributes to premature death influenced by loneliness. It is important for seniors to have mutually positive and interactive relationships with people they are care about. While some may enjoy living alone, humans evolved as social beings and most thrive on positive social interaction as well as having a strong rapport with others. He adds that most people prefer companionship rather than being secluded as it is more natural to the human species and there are many health benefits from having positive social interactions.
To combat premature death in seniors due to loneliness, Cacioppo encourages seniors to keep in contact with friends and former co-workers. Also he mentions making an effort to spend time with loved ones they care about, who in return, also care about them. He also cautions that the popular idea of moving somewhere warm for retirement may not be the best idea for everyone, as it may separate seniors from the people they are close to. People that move somewhere warm may be surrounded by a lot of people but they are usually strangers. There are three core foundations to healthy relationships that Cacioppo and his team have identified. The first is connectedness that is intimate, this is when a person has a companion that he or she feels affirms who they are. The second is connectedness that is relational, meaning that a person has a companion physically present that they feel close to. Lastly, Cacioppo describes connectedness that is collective, in other words, feeling as though one is part of a social group.
It is in close and meaningful relationships that seniors will be able to lower the chance of premature death increased by loneliness. By having healthy relationships that have core foundations, seniors will benefit from them mentally and physically.
By Lian Morrison