Loneliness is something we all experience from time to time, but many people do not consider the impact these feelings can have on their health. Not only is loneliness stressful emotionally, a new study suggests it may lead to an increased risk of death in older adults.
According to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, people aged 60 or older had an increased risk of death during the study’s six-year follow-up period than those who did not report feelings of loneliness. The authors determined that participants who said they experienced loneliness had a 22.8 percent chance of dying during that timeframe, compared with 14.2 percent of participants who did not feel lonely. Feelings of loneliness were also linked to difficulties with upper extremity tasks and stair climbing, as well as a decrease in daily activities.
The authors used data from 1,604 participants in the Health and Retirement Study. Of this group, 43.2 percent said they experienced feelings of loneliness. Participants were determined to fall into the lonely category if they noted feeling “left out, isolated or lack of companionship at least some of the time.”
“Loneliness is a common source of suffering in older persons. We demonstrated that it is also a risk factor for poor health outcomes including death and multiple measures of functional decline,” the authors write.
The bottom line? If you are feeling lonely, it may negatively impact your health. In fact, the authors of the study suggest that doctors take note of these particular feelings when evaluating older patients.
“Assessment of loneliness is not routine in clinical practice and it may be viewed as beyond the scope of medical practice. However, loneliness may be as an important of a predictor of adverse health outcomes as many traditional medical risk factors,” the researchers note. “Our results suggest that questioning older persons about loneliness may be a useful way of identifying elderly persons at risk of disability and poor health outcomes.”