Loneliness is a major health risk for the elderly and it can increase the risk of premature death by 14%, warns a new research. A meta-analysis showed loneliness has twice the impact on early death as obesity.
The consequences to health are dramatic, as feeling isolated from others can disrupt sleep, elevate blood pressure, increase morning rises in the stress hormone cortisol, alter gene expression in immune cells and increase depression and lower overall subjective well-being.
John Cacioppo, professor of psychology at the University of Chicago who conducted the study, said the impact of loneliness on premature death is nearly as strong as the impact of disadvantaged socioeconomic status, which they found increases the chances of dying early by 19%. It is not solitude or physical isolation itself, but rather the subjective sense of isolation that shows to be so profoundly disruptive. Older people living alone are not necessary lonely if they remain socially engaged and enjoy the company of those around them.
The research has identified three core dimensions to healthy relationships — intimate connectedness, which comes from having someone in your life you feel affirms who you are; relational connectedness, which comes from having face-to-face contacts that are mutually rewarding; and collective connectedness, which comes from feeling that you're part of a group or collective beyond individual existence.
But some aspects of aging, such as blindness and loss of hearing, place people at a special risk for becoming isolated and lonely.
The study should come as an eye opener for Indian families as data from India's health ministry show the number of people in the 60-plus age group in country is expected to increase from 100 million in 2013 to 198 million in 2030. India's Planning Commission says the country's elderly population will rise to 12% of the total population by 2025, 10% of which would be bedridden, requiring utmost care.