This is particularly true as we move into old age, as a number of studies have asserted.
One study, conducted back in 2012, watched over 1,600 adults with an average age of 71, and compared their social interactions with their ongoing life span. The researchers found that 23% of the participants who reported loneliness died within six years. Meanwhile, only 14% of those with companionship died during the same time period.
The researchers came to the conclusion that “loneliness is a significant factor in the decline of quality of life in older adults.”
For lonely people, the increased risks of psychological issues such as depression and cognitive impairment, as well as other physical health problems, such as coronary heart disease, are all factors that may lead to an earlier death.
This isn’t the only study that seems to suggest that loneliness plays a factor in serious health problems. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, an associate professor of psychology at Brigham Young University in Utah, has conducted similar studies. She said:
“Our social relationships are important not only to our quality of life, but also our longevity. Throughout human history, we have relied on others for survival, such as protection and food, and despite modern advancements that may (help with) certain aspects of survival so that we can live more independently, it appears that our relationships nonetheless still impact odds of survival.”
This is a good point - our modern lifestyle is so completely at odds with how we have lived for thousands of years, and our bodies haven't adjusted. We are still very social animals.
Of course, it is best to spend time with family members, but this theory could also go some way to proving that nursing homes are often a good option for the elderly. Although going into a home is often seen as a negative, care home residents get more social interaction and attention, and are less likely to be lonely. They are also more likely to be physically active and get the care they need.
This should serve as a wake up call to those who have elderly parents or friends. Just stopping by once a week to visit, or even making a few phone calls a week, can make a big difference in their health and overall wellbeing.
If you have kids of your own, another option is to ask your elderly loved ones to babysit, even if just for a short time. Other studies suggest that grandparents who babysit are less likely to suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
The biology behind loneliness might be complex, but the act of tackling loneliness is simple - make an effort to hang out with your loved ones more often. It's not just older people, either - even the younger generation have major problems with loneliness, and it is taking its toll. Let's do whatever we can to fix that.