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Loneliness: The Risk of Premature Death

  • Synopsis: Published: 2015-03-18 - Article looks at the health aspect of loneliness and social isolation, particularly among seniors - Disabled World (Disabled World).
Loneliness

Loneliness is defined as a complex and usually unpleasant emotional response to isolation or lack of companionship. Loneliness typically includes anxious feelings about a lack of connectedness or communality with other beings, both in the present and extending into the future. As such, loneliness can be felt even when surrounded by other people. The causes of loneliness are varied and include social, mental or emotional factors.

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Quote: "People who are socially isolated and feel lonely might be at increased risk of early death according to British researchers."

Seniors are particularly vulnerable to both loneliness and social isolation and it may have a serious effect on their health. Yet there are ways to overcome loneliness, even if you live alone and it is hard for you to get out and about. Hundreds of thousands of seniors are lonely and cut off from society, especially people over the age of seventy-five.

For example; in England fifty-one percent of all people over the age of seventy-five live by themselves. Five million seniors state their television is their main form of company. People may become socially isolated for a number of reasons such as:

  • Aging
  • Leaving the workplace
  • Becoming physically weaker
  • The deaths of spouses or friends
  • A form of disability or health issue
  • No longer being the hub of the family

Despite the cause of the person's loneliness, it is surprisingly easy to be left feeling alone and vulnerable, something which may lead to depression as well as a serious decline in the person's health and overall well-being. A person who is lonely most likely also finds it difficult to reach out to others. A stigma exists surrounding loneliness and seniors tend to avoid asking for help out of pride. Bear in mind that loneliness can and does affect people of any age.

Connecting with Others and Feeling Useful and Appreciated

The need to interact with others is a part of the human experience. What follows are some ways for people who are lonely to connect with other people and feel both useful and appreciated.

Contact Others by Phone: Having a talk with a relative or friend over the phone may be the next best thing to actually being with them.

Get Out for a While: Do not wait for people to come and visit you, go to visit them. One of the advantages of being older is that public transportation is a better value. Travel by bus, train, or plane and visit those you care about.

Involve Yourself in Local Community Activities: Local community activities vary with a person's location, although the chances are you will have access to activities such as book clubs, walking groups, bingo, bridge, or faith groups.

Smile: Even if it feels difficult to do so, smile. Reach for every chance to smile at others or start a conversation. For example; interact with the person next to you in a line, doctor's office, or with people in shops. If you are shy or unsure of what to say to other people, try asking them about themselves.

Create a Diary: Planning out the week ahead and placing things in your diary can help you to feel less lonely and look forward to each day. Entries and planning might include things such as going to a local coffee shop, planning a walk in the park, going to a library or sports event, or planning to go to a museum or movie theater.

Invite People to Your Home: If you are feeling alone it is tempting to think that no-one wants to visit with you. Yet often times family members, friends and neighbors will appreciate receiving an invitation to come over and spend some time with you. If you prefer that someone else host, you can ask people if it alright if you come to visit with them.

Help Other People: Use the experiences and knowledge you have to give something back to your own community. You will receive a lot back in return such as confidence, new skills and new friends. A large number of volunteer opportunities exist that relish the skills and qualities of Seniors, People with Disabilities and Veterans with disabilities. Your experiences, patience and calmness are greatly valued.

Learn to Use a Computer: If your family members and friends live too far away to visit, a great way to keep in touch - particularly with children and grandchildren, is by using a computer or tablet. You can share pictures and email messages with family members and friends. You can pursue free video chats using various services and make new online friends, or re-connect with old friends, through social media websites. A tablet computer can be very useful if you cannot get around very easily because you can sit with the tablet on your lap or close at hand and the screen is both bright and clear. A sponge-tip stylus pen or speech recognition might help if the touchscreen is hard on arthritic hands or fingers with poor circulation. Your local library or community center may hold training courses for people to learn basic computer skills, as well as being wonderful places to meet and spend time with others.

Loneliness and Increased Risk of Early Death

People who are socially isolated and feel lonely might be at increased risk of early death according to British researchers. A lack of social contact may be an even larger risk factor than loneliness. Why isolation is such an incredible predictor of death remains uncertain.

Andrew Steptoe, Director of the Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care at University College in London stated, "Social contact is a fundamental aspect of human existence. The scientific evidence is that being socially isolated is probably bad for your health, and may lead to the development of serious illness and a reduced life span." Research results also suggest that loneliness has similar associations with poor health, according to Mr. Steptoe.

In a number of ways, social isolation and loneliness are two sides of the same issue. Social isolation indicates a lack of contact with family members, friends and organizations. Loneliness is a subjective experience of lack of social contact and companionship. Investigators discovered that social isolation was a more consistent predictor of not surviving than loneliness and is related to increased risk of dying - even after age and background health were considered.

Dr. Bryan Bruno, Acting Chair of Psychiatry at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said the results of research are somewhat unexpected. "You would think that loneliness would compound the risk for mortality, as opposed to just isolation - it's a bit of a surprise," said Dr. Bruno. Mr. Steptoe; however, explained that knowing about how lonely participants felt did not add to researchers ability to predict future mortality. Mr. Steptoe is not saying that loneliness is unimportant, or that researchers should not strive to reduce loneliness in seniors.

Mr. Steptoe suggested the need to pursue social connections where seniors are concerned, because maintaining social contacts among seniors and reducing isolation may be especially important for their survival. Dr. Bruno agrees that isolation is a significant factor in both reduced quality of life and mortality. Dr. Bruno stated, 'It is a difficult, challenging problem.'

Dr. Bruno says that where seniors are concerned, he often times pursues a lot of education about the risk associated with being isolated and encourages seniors to spend as much time as possible with other people - whether they are family members, friends, community organizations or groups, or performing volunteer work.

To examine the risks of loneliness and social isolation on dying, Mr. Steptoe's team collected data on 6,500 women and men over the age of fifty-two who took part in the English Longitudinal Study of Aging. People who had limited contact with family members, friends, or community were classified as, 'socially isolated.' The researchers used a questionnaire to assess loneliness, which was described in background information in the study as a person's, 'dissatisfaction with the frequency and closeness of their social contacts, or the discrepancy between the relationships they have and the ones they would like to have.

During almost eight years of follow-up, 918 people died and social isolation and loneliness both predicted an early death. Social isolation; on the other hand, increased the risk of dying despite the person's health and other factors. Loneliness increased the risk of dying only among people who experienced underlying physical or mental health issues, according to the researchers.

Learn More About Premature Death

Loneliness 'increases risk of premature death'
www.nhs.uk/news/2015/03March/Pages/Loneliness-increases-risk-of-premature-death.aspx

Isolation, Loneliness May Raise Death Risk for Elderly
www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asparticlekey=168747

Loneliness increases risk of premature death in seniors
www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/272705.php

Facts: Loneliness

  • Many people experience loneliness for the first time when they are left alone as infants.
  • Loneliness has been linked with depression, and is thus a risk factor for suicide.
  • Nostalgia has also been found to have a restorative effect, counteracting loneliness by increasing perceived social support.
  • A treatment for both loneliness and depression is pet therapy, or animal-assisted therapy, as it is more formally known.
  • In children, a lack of social connections is directly linked to several forms of antisocial and self-destructive behavior, most notably hostile and delinquent behavior.
  • The existentialist school of thought views loneliness as the essence of being human.
  • People can experience loneliness for many reasons and many life events may cause it, like the lack of friendship relations during childhood and adolescence, or the physical absence of meaningful people around a person.
  • Loneliness appears to have intensified in every society in the world as modernization occurs.
  • Whether a correlation exists between Internet usage and loneliness is a subject of controversy, with some findings showing that Internet users are lonelier.

Statistics: Loneliness

  • A study found that 12% of Americans have no one with whom to spend free time or to discuss important matters.
  • It has been estimated that approximately 60 million people in the United States, or 20% of the total population, feel lonely.
  • Within developed nations, loneliness has shown the largest increases among two groups: seniors and people living in low-density suburbs.

Related Information:

  1. Seniors Overcoming Loneliness at Home - Bankers Life and Casualty - (2009-02-24)
    https://www.disabled-world.com/communication/community/seniors-loneliness.php
  2. Overweight Children Experience More Loneliness and Anxiety - University of Missouri-Columbia - (2009-07-02)
    https://www.disabled-world.com/fitness/child-obesity/overweight-children.php
  3. Brain and Loneliness Connection - University of Chicago - (2009-02-16)
    https://www.disabled-world.com/health/neurology/brain/brain-loneliness.php


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