May 8, 2024 at 9:20 am

Researchers Find Loneliness Is More Harmful To Human Health Than Smoking, Alcoholism, Or Obesity

by Trisha Leigh

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There is a big discussion brewing these days about the number of people who would rather be alone than in a relationship – and how that is going to affect people who do want to be a relationship but can’t find a partner.

Of course, there have always been those lonely hearts out there, waiting a lifetime to find a partner worthy of their time.

Now science is weighing in, and it turns out that loneliness really can be the death of you.

In fact, it’s now considered as high-risk a lifestyle as smoking, drinking, or overeating.

Source: Shutterstock

Regenstrief Institute, a data informatics firm, put out a press release about the new research.

In it, they said studies suggest that a majority of people 65 or older consider themselves lonely, and that fact could affect their health more than 15 cigarettes a day.

Researchers state in their article, published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society that being lonely is a “biophysical stressor.”

Nearly 53% of seniors identified in the study experienced loneliness, and their mental and physical health outcomes were much poorer than their peers – across demographics and health conditions.

Loneliness is associated with greater mortality risks than these other lifestyle factors. To be fair, being lonely can also lead to drinking too much, eating too much, a lack of exercise, and resulting depression or anxiety.

IU research scientist and professor Monica Williams-Farrelly believes the connection is strong, though.

“Based on the literature and research, loneliness has influences on health that are quite significant and quite strong. So in the same way that we ask older adults: ‘Do you smoke? Or do you measure your blood sugar? We should be inquiring about and measuring loneliness and offering solutions.”

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The researchers collected this data by going through the Caregiver Outcomes of Alzheimer’s Disease Screening study. This ongoing survey evaluates dementia screening among clinicians, and it identifies a growing trend in loneliness that predates the Covid-19 outbreak.

“Loneliness may seem simple, but it can be complex to identify and address. It started to become a problem before COVID-19, and then with the national stay-at-home order caused by the pandemic, social contact was being prevented, which exacerbated the problem.”

The US Surgeon General’s Office addressed loneliness as a subject of an advisory in 2023. That’s how bad things are out there.

Now, armed with this research, hopefully providers will begin treating feelings of isolation as a serious health factor.

It seems that treating it that way up front could actually save lives.

If you think that’s impressive, check out this story about a “goldmine” of lithium that was found in the U.S. that could completely change the EV battery game.