Social Isolation Limits Quality of Lifespan

Loneliness leads to bad outcomes

High social isolation predicts earlier death

Loneliness refers to perceived social isolation. Quality of Lifespan reflects the amount of time during our life when we function at a particular level. Evidence continues to accumulate that loneliness limits Quality of Lifespan by reducing both longevity and functionality.

Loneliness researchers Louise Hawkley and the late John Cacioppo at the University of Chicago reviewed evidence that loneliness predicts increased risks of a long list of physical and mental illnesses and death. More specifically, loneliness predicts increased blood pressure, coronary heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, personality disorders, impaired cognitive performance, cognitive decline, and diminished executive control. Loneliness may lead to feeling unsafe by being hypervigilant for social threats. Lonely people may see the world as a threatening place of negative social interactions. A self-reinforcing cycle can develop leading to feelings of hostility, pessimism, anxiety, and social disconnectedness. Lonely people may be more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors, get low-quality sleep, and experience chronic stress.

Cardiovascular diseases, such as heart failure, kill more Americans than any other cause. Researchers with Mayo Clinic in Minnesota followed 1,861 heart failure patients with an average age of 73 years. Compared to patients who reported low levels of perceived social isolation (loneliness), those who reported moderate levels did not exhibit higher risk of death or more hospitalizations or emergency room visits over 27 months of follow-up. But those who reported high levels of perceived social isolation had more than 3.5 times the risk of dying compared to those with low levels of social isolation. The rates of hospitalization and emergency room visits increased by 68 and 82 percent, respectively, for those with high social isolation. Thus, a high degree of perceived social isolation may dramatically impact your health.

A functional society depends on harmonious social relationships. Loneliness reflects a perceived shortage of satisfying social relationships. Thus, the negative aspects of loneliness can help gauge the importance of social relationships to fully functioning humans. Abundant research suggests that loneliness negatively affects numerous aspects of human health across the lifespan. Negative effects can be especially prominent in late adulthood as chronic diseases progressively manifest. Given that 15-30 percent of the general US population suffers from chronic loneliness, finding ways to help lonely people establish satisfying social relationships constitutes a major public health challenge.

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