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Can Loneliness Kill?

Research shows chance of an early death goes up 14% in the chronically isolated.

Helen Smith


February 19, 2014 - 4:48 pm

shutterstock_123022162 “Extreme loneliness worse for health than obesity and can lead to an early grave, scientists say”:

Feeling extreme loneliness on a long-term basis can be worse than obesity in terms of increasing the potentially lethal health risks that lead to premature death, scientists said.

Chronic loneliness has been shown to increase the chances of an early grave by 14 per cent, which is as bad as being overweight and almost as bad as poverty in undermining a person’s long-term wellbeing, a study has found.

As more people live longer, they are spending a bigger part of their lives feeling lonely. This is having a significant impact on their physical as well as mental health, the researchers found.

Loneliness is also becoming more common as people live alone or become isolated from relatives and friends, especially in retirement.

Research has shown that at any given time between 20 and 40 per cent of older adults feel lonely….

Maybe if our culture didn’t treat older people like pariahs and worship youth, older adults might feel less lonely. Worshiping youth makes young people feel like they should be having a good time and if they are not, their feelings of loneliness and isolation increase. Treating people with humanity regardless of age would be a good start.


Cross-posted from Dr. Helen’s Blog

image courtesy shutterstock / qingqing

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee, and blogs at Dr. Helen.

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All Comments   (10)
All Comments   (10)
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Only western cultures do not live communally. Authorities will not even allow communal homes on large sites. The result is lonely people. It is simply contrary to human nature for people to be living isolated lives.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Advise the lonely to eat out more often, preferably at various junk food restaurants, so as to encourage obesity. Or get a cat.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
it used to be common for widowed elderly to live with their adult children. Now parents and children don't want to live with each other anymore. There's a lot to be said for family members living together where they can look out for each and share expenses. Today it's almost become a socially unacceptable.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The effects of feeling isolated on lifespan are almost certainly multi-factorial. Not least is the risk of suicide.
Some who are alone choose it. Some who are alone very much want to bond but can't figure out how.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Chronic loneliness has been shown to increase the chances of an early grave ... As more people live longer, they are spending a bigger part of their lives feeling lonely. "

This is a contradiction.

I think the 'feeling lonely' aspect of this is what's off. Perhaps 'alone' is a better way to put it than 'feeling lonely'.

Perhaps it should read: As people live longer, they are more likely to die alone". This makes more sense.

I am often alone, but rarely, if ever, lonely. For many, being alone is a choice.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I'm with you. One need recall, I think, that while there may be pain in loneliness, there can be glory in solitude.

Ben Hartley
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Whoa, couldn't the "increased chances of an early grave" be not loneliness itself, but the way in which persons living alone don't have others around to watch over them as much? Lots of elderly have serious accidents with noone else around to help.

I agree that the way we treat many older people in this country is shameful. So many elderly are shoved off to a retirement home and forgotten. The roots of this might stem from our very mobile society, in which different generations tend to live all over the place. There are good things about that mobility, but it does loosen family ties and respect for the old, and those are biggies.

Before urbanization, many households tended to have 3 generations or more under the same roof. Or, if not under the same roof, at least in the same neighborhood or county. And this wasn't necessarily a drag on the younger ones. The older ones could help with childcare, housework, etc., and also feel more useful.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Who lives in your neighborhood is sometimes government dictated and makes family cohesiveness even less likely. Our cities have become cesspools of rotting neighborhoods and section 8 making the mobile and formerly connected move out for their own safety. Many elderly are left behind because they cannot afford to move or because they are no longer mobile, do not drive, and depend on often unsafe public transportation for their lifelines to others. I can guarantee you that most would like to move, but have to remain prisoners in corrupt urban areas because of resources and income.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
People don't want their kids living with them when they turn 18. Children don't want their parents living with them when they turn 80. Family members seem to have gotten rather intoelrant of each other.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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