“Social isolation and loneliness shorten older people’s lives and damage their mental and physical health and quality of life. Physical health consequences include conditions such as cardiovascular disease and stroke and mental health consequences include conditions such as cognitive decline, dementia, depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation and suicide.” World Health Organisation.
Experts say that loneliness and social isolation can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and the problem is particularly acute among seniors.
Loneliness can silently kill you.
A three-year Dutch study followed more than 2,000 participants aged 65 to 86. While none of the participants had signs of dementia at the outset of the study, results revealed that those who reported feeling lonely had a 64 per cent increase in the risk of developing dementia.
The Research Behind
"Social isolation, or a lack of social opportunity, gives rise to a sense of loneliness. Directly or indirectly, this feeling has many wide-ranging consequences for our psychological well-being as well as our physical health, even our longevity," the study states. "In short, loneliness kills people."
For the study, researchers at McGill Univesity and the University of Oxford in the U.K. analyzed a range of existing studies on loneliness in order to explore the neurobiology of social isolation.
They found that loneliness can have a profound impact on the brain and that insufficient social stimulation affects its reasoning and memory performances, its hormone homeostasis, which controls blood glucose levels and blood pressure, its amount of grey and white matter, its connectivity and function, and its resilience to mental and physical disease.
Studies from The Marmalade Trust have found that long-term isolation and a lack of social stimulation is associated with cognitive decline. This can affect memory loss and develop into more serious neurological disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s. Long-term studies into the cognitive effects of loneliness have shown that it often takes years or even decades to accumulate. So it’s important to keep regular social interactions going, no matter how small or functionary.