New Study Uncovers An Alarming Consequence Of Chronic Loneliness

New Study Uncovers An Alarming Consequence Of Chronic Loneliness

If you feel consistently lonely, you certainly aren’t the only one. Last year, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy declared a loneliness epidemic in the United States because of the high prevalence of loneliness among adults and youth.

Loneliness plays a role in health for a multitude of reasons: It’s linked to mental and physical health issues, including depression, heart disease and dementia, making it an important issue to manage. Now, a new study out of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has found that people who are chronically lonely are also more likely to have a stroke.

Researchers used data from 8,936 people in the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement study; all were 50 and older with no stroke history. Participants reported their loneliness level via a loneliness scale at two points — between 2006 and 2008 and 2010 and 2012.

Researchers established four groups based on this data — “consistently low” for people who reported low loneliness at both times; “remitting” for folks who reported high loneliness the first time and low loneliness the second; “recent onset” for those who reported low loneliness first and high loneliness the second time; and “consistently high” for those who reported high levels of loneliness at both times.

People who reported loneliness at both times were 56% more likely to have a stroke when compared to those who did not report loneliness at either time.

Stroke risk was 25% higher among those in the “remitting” group, but people who reported loneliness only the second time (“recent onset”) did not have a higher incidence of stroke, which led researchers to determine that chronic, long-term loneliness is the risk factor for stroke ― not a one-off lonely day.

This study had several limitations. It was conducted in older adults, so it’s unclear how these findings relate to younger people. Also, loneliness is subjective ― what “lonely” means for one person may not be the same for someone else.

“Repeat assessments of loneliness may help identify those who are chronically lonely and are therefore at a higher risk for stroke. If we fail to address their feelings of loneliness, on a micro and macro scale, there could be profound health consequences,” lead study author Yenee Soh said in a press release. “Importantly, these interventions must specifically target loneliness, which is a subjective perception and should not be conflated with social isolation.”

What You Can Do If You’re Chronically Lonely

“I think it’s really important for us to remember that we’re just social creatures, we’re social animals, literally from birth,” said Brian Mullan, a licensed professional counselor with Thriveworks in Philadelphia who was not affiliated with the study. “It’s an innate, hardwired need we humans have.”

When it comes to addressing feelings of loneliness, experts say there are a few things you can do. First, “explore resources in the community that are either free, or very low cost or local to you,” Mullan said.

You could attend community events at your local library, a weekly dance class at a nearby studio, a recurring game night at your community center, and more. “So, looking into your community and thinking about things that you’re already interested in. Maybe things that you have always wanted to explore, but felt constrained from, I think that’s one great place to start,” Mullan explained.

If you’re already a member of an association, whether a religious organization, networking group or neighborhood association, see if you can get more involved by joining a committee or specialized group — like a book club at work or a weekly Bible study group. You can also try downloading Bumble BFF, a meet-up service, or go out on a limb and invite your coworker out to lunch.

To lessen feelings of loneliness, you can also nurture connections with family and friends. Research shows that a simple “How are you?” text can go a long way, as can other relationship-building efforts.

“If you have to make the choice between spending extra time at work every night of the week or every once in a while closing your laptop and finding some friends and going out and strengthening the bond you have with them, make sure that you’re balancing it so that you are really prioritizing your connection to other people,” Tim Bono, a lecturer in psychological and brain sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, previously told HuffPost.

“Other people help us extend the good days and optimize the happiness from that. And they also help us persevere through the difficult times,” Bono said.

Not only will these social connections bolster your emotional and mental health, but they can help you keep up your physical health.

Beyond managing loneliness, there are other things you can do to decrease your overall stroke risk. Roughly 795,000 people in the U.S. have a stroke every year, and it’s the fifth leading cause of death among Americans, according to the American Stroke Association.

Experts say you should manage issues like high blood pressure and cholesterol, limit foods that are high in saturated fats, sugar and salt, try to stop smoking if you’re a smoker, and commit to a regular exercise regimen.

Combined with meaningful social connections, these lifestyle changes can help you stay healthy as you age.

Read more

Leave a Reply