29 March 2013

Social isolation shortens life

Experts have long known that both social isolation and a sense of loneliness can increase a person's risk of developing various diseases and death. However, until now it was not completely clear whether isolation, which generates a feeling of loneliness, is the cause of poor health, or whether each of these factors individually can have a detrimental effect.

Researchers at University College London, working under the leadership of Andrew Steptoe, analyzed data from 6,500 people aged 52 and older who took part in the English Longitudinal Study of Aging, which monitors the health, social well-being and longevity of the UK population. The level of social isolation was determined by the frequency of their contacts with family members, friends and public organizations stated by the participants, and the depth of loneliness was determined based on the analysis of completed questionnaires. The level and nature of morbidity, as well as mortality of participants were monitored in the period from 2004 to 2012.

Analysis of the collected data revealed a correlation between social isolation and increased mortality, which persisted even after adjusting the results taking into account previous diagnoses and socio-economic factors. At the same time, it turned out that the subjective feeling of loneliness has nothing to do with the mortality rate.

According to Dr. Steptoe, we often view loneliness and social isolation as two sides of the same coin. However, the data obtained indicate that the lack of social contacts damages health regardless of whether a person feels lonely or not.

This contradicts the results of two recently published studies, according to which the feeling of loneliness is associated with a deterioration in health and an increase in mortality among the elderly (for a retelling of one of them, see the note "Lonely old age is a risk factor"). Experts believe that this contradiction needs to be sorted out, including the possible contribution of cultural factors potentially influencing the results, such as differences in the approaches by which people report experiencing a feeling of loneliness.

The authors, in turn, state that they plan to analyze the possible impact of social isolation on the effectiveness of treatment and outcomes of diseases. At the same time, special attention will be paid to loneliness.

Article by Steptoe A. et al. Social isolation, loneliness, and all-cause mortality in older men and women is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Evgeniya Ryabtseva
Portal "Eternal youth" http://vechnayamolodost.ru based on the materials of Nature: Social isolation shortens lifespan


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