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Researchers Say Isolation and Loneliness Is More Dangerous Than Smoking 15 Cigarettes a Day

Many of our elder family members become socially isolated due to health limitations and friends that have moved away, and family schedules that are hectic.  This isolation leads to loneliness, something that all of us have likely felt at some point in our lives.  . But did you know it poses serious health risks?

When looking at an assisted living community, an independent living community there is often guilt that family members feel.  Most often people say to themselves “I told Mom and Dad that I would help them live in their home forever.”  This is a common guilt that adult children feel, even when they know that living at home is not the best option for mom and dad.  To help rid yourself of that guilt, here is some very interesting information regarding the effect of loneliness on the health of your loved one. 

Researchers have confirmed that loneliness can be a deadly affliction — as lethal as diabetes or smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

“We need to start taking our social relationships more seriously,” Julianne Holt-Lunstad, the author of a Brigham Young University study on loneliness, said in a statement. “The effect of this is comparable to obesity; something that public health takes very seriously.”

The world is in the throes of an invisible loneliness epidemic, with 60 million sufferers in America alone.  Many of them aged 75 and older. 

The number of adults reporting loneliness aged 75 and older has doubled since the 1980s, from 20 percent to 40 percent.

Loneliness is particularly pronounced among certain groups of people, such as immigrants, the elderly, the disabled, and those in low-income families. But a new study finds that it's natural for loneliness to fluctuate throughout our lives in ways that aren't always expected, and it increases with the loss of close friendships of the death of a spouse. 

Loneliness is also more widespread in big cities.

“Social isolation just may be the greatest environmental hazard of city living — worse than noise, pollution, or even crowding," Charles Montgomery wrote in his 2013 book "Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design."

Here are some of the health hazards associated with loneliness.

Loneliness can cause so many health issues, some experts believe it should be treated as a chronic illness.

Inflammation

Lonely people generate more inflammation-related proteins in stressful situations than socially connected people, according to a study by Ohio State University College of Medicine.

Inflammation can lead to other health problems, including Type 2 diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression.

Inflammation may also go hand in hand with impaired immune function, which the study found to be another side effect of loneliness.

"Both, in different ways, indicate that the immune system is a little out of whack," study researcher Lisa Jaremka, a postdoctoral fellow at Ohio State, told LiveScience.

Heart problems

 

Loneliness can literally break your heart, researchers at the University of York found. The stress and fear associated with being alone can trigger an inflammatory response in your body, which is a major risk factor for heart disease. Socially isolated or lonely people are 29 percent more likely to have heart disease and 32 percent more likely to have a stroke, according to the study.

Dementia

 

Sufferers of loneliness are at a 64 percent greater risk of dementia later in life, according to a Dutch study in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry.

The increased risk hinges on feelings of loneliness and is not correlated simply with living alone. "Interestingly, the fact that 'feeling lonely' rather than 'being alone' was associated with dementia onset suggests that it is not the objective situation but, rather, the perceived absence of social attachments that increases the risk of cognitive decline," the study authors told The Guardian.

Obesity

Because inactivity tends to be a staple of loneliness, the feeling is associated with obesity, which is linked to diabetes and other serious health conditions.

Premature death

Being socially isolated renders you 30 percent more likely to suffer a premature death than your socially involved counterparts, the study by Brigham Young University showed. And you don't need to only feel lonely for this bear out. A study author told CNN that being alone and feeling alone should both be taken seriously.

And because inflammation can trigger depression, there's also an increased risk of suicide.

Why are people so lonely?

It's possible people are experiencing unprecedented levels of loneliness because the number of people living alone has been increasing for decades, to more than 27 percent in 2013 from about 5 percent in the 1920s.

The number of one-person households across the globe has also been on the rise, CBS News reported.

 

Holt-Lunstad, of the BYU study, had this to say to Time about loneliness:

“This is something that we need to take seriously for our health. This should become a public-health issue.”

 

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