Humans need social interaction in order to thrive. Studies have shown, and continue to show, that individuals experiencing social isolation are prone to a decline in health and a shorter lifespan. Public healthcare experts are becoming increasingly concerned as more and more Americans become isolated, creating what many are calling a growing epidemic.
Loneliness has been known to cause an array of issues including:
- High levels of inflammation-inducing substances: Inflammation is linked to heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes, arthritis, and even suicide. Loneliness predicted changes in DNA transcription which reduces the body’s ability to turn off its inflammatory response.
- Difficulty performing daily activities: People who are lonely have a harder time dressing, using their arms and shoulders, climbing stairs, walking etc.
- Cognitive Decline: Those who have reported feeling lonely are more likely to develop dementia.
- Increased Stress Level: People who reported being lonely had a stronger reaction to negative events and perceived daily life as stressful. This can further depress the immune system, making them more vulnerable to illness.
It is important to note the actual definition of loneliness, as social isolation and loneliness do not go hand-in-hand. A person could be surrounded by people, friends, and loved ones, and still feel lonely. If the relationships are not emotionally rewarding, then it can cause loneliness. An example of this would be an unhappy marriage. Being married doesn’t automatically mean you are less lonely. Similarly, a person could live alone and have very few social interactions, but not feel lonely. They simply prefer a more hermetic lifestyle.
Some ways to combat loneliness include taking a class, volunteering, caring for a pet, or joining a senior center. There are many programs that pair seniors with a volunteer who regularly meets with them and befriends them.
Many researchers believe that loneliness is among conditions like high blood pressure, obesity, lack of exercise or smoking as risk factors for illness and early death. It is a significant issue for people of all ages, children, and adults, and will only continue to worsen as individuals become more and more physically isolated. It is important to keep up relationships with people and form new ones when needed, especially if you know someone who is experiencing loneliness.