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Loneliness is a killer

The coronavirus shut down has made us all more aware of the problems of loneliness.  Loneliness itself can be a cause of mental health problems, of morbidity and of premature death.   A new study in the United States shows the impact of loneliness on the end of life experience. 

In a study of Americans over age 50 years who died between 2004 and 2014, individuals who were characterized as lonely based on survey results were burdened by more symptoms and received more intense end-of-life care compared with non-lonely people.



In the 2,896-participant study, which is published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, one-third of adults were lonely. In addition to having an increased likelihood of experiencing troublesome symptoms at the end of life, isolated individuals were more likely to use life support in the last 2 years of life (35.5% versus 29.4%) and more likely to die in a nursing home (18.4% versus 14.2%) than non-lonely individuals.

Dr Nauzley Abedini, who led the study at the University of Michigan, says:

“Loneliness is a pervasive psychosocial phenomenon with profound implications for the health and wellbeing of older adults throughout the life continuum, and particularly at the end of life, We must do more—as healthcare providers, but also as a society—to screen for and intervene on loneliness not just during the dying process, but before the end of life period.”

The charity Campaign to End Loneliness says that there is substantial evidence that having a lack of social connections significantly increases the risk of premature mortality.

Studies show that loneliness increases the likelihood of mortality by 26% and has and effect on mortality comparable to the impact of well-known risk factors such as obesity or cigarette smoking. 

Loneliness is associated with an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke, and also increases the risk of high blood pressure.

Loneliness also puts individuals at greater risk of cognitive decline and dementia, and lonely people are more prone to depression.

Loneliness and low social interaction are predictive of suicide in older age and loneliness and isolation are associated with poorer cognitive function among older adults.



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