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Loneliness

The Epidemic of Loneliness

Though our need to connect is innate, many of us frequently feel alone. Even some people who are surrounded by others throughout the day—or are in a long-lasting marriage—still experience a deep and pervasive loneliness.

Feelings of loneliness and isolation affect all types and ages of people, although some, like adolescents, are more likely to be impacted than others. The elderly are also at high risk. Research indicates that more than 20 percent of people over age 60 frequently feel intensely lonely.

Suffering from loneliness is somewhat like suffering from physical pain: In one study, brain scans of lonely individuals who received a dose of Tylenol showed reduced activity in pain-processing areas of the brain. In addition, loneliness can heighten the fight-or-flight response—the physiological reaction a person has when facing a threat.

The Risks of Loneliness

Not surprisingly, feelings of isolation can have a serious detrimental effect on one's mental and physical health. Loneliness can be a risk factor for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis, among other critical diseases. Lonely people are also twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

At the root, isolation compromises immunity, increases the production of stress hormones, and is harmful to sleep. All of this feeds chronic inflammation, which lowers immunity to the degree that lonely people even suffer more from the common cold. Loneliness can be a chronic stress condition that ages the body and causes damage to overall well-being.

CONNECTED TOPICS

Depression, Anxiety

Dealing With Loneliness

As people age, friends and family age with them, and sometimes they are the last ones standing. Getting out to meet new people isn’t always easy for the very old. Physical limitations, like diminished sight and hearing, can make socializing more challenging.

Since the risks associated with loneliness, it is imperative to help people of all ages connect with others. Just like promoting healthy eating and exercise and reducing drug and alcohol consumption, taking steps to increase social opportunities is important to public and personal health.

CONNECTED TOPICS

Anxiety, Aging

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