Keeping warm this winter and warding off loneliness are two major considerations for the elderly and it turns out they may be linked. Researchers from the University of Toronto have been investigating the idea that being “frozen out” from society may not just be a figure of speech, reports The Guardian.
In the animal kingdom, creatures huddle together for warmth and a new theory of social thermoregulation suggests it's not just the collective sharing of body heat that’s beneficial. Scanning the brains of people has shown that the areas associated with controlling temperatures are connected to those responsible for social behaviour.
Being physically cold makes loneliness feel more acute, it’s thought, sparking a desire to be close to others. It works the other way too, with people seeking warm temperatures when they’ve been emotionally excluded. This may be the result of evolution, with the need to rely on each other for food and shelter being particularly vital in the winter.
Professors Chen-Bo Zhong and Geoffrey Leonardelli at the University of Toronto asked participants to remember a time when they had been excluded or included by others. They were then tasked with estimating the temperature of the room at the time these events took place. Those recalling a time of rejection were on average 3°C lower than the people who had remembered a time of social connection.
In another strand of the research, participants were asked to take part in a video game where they played catch, but after a while, some of the subjects were left out. They were more likely to want a coffee or some soup afterwards, as opposed to a cold drink.
While more research into the area is required, the findings help to bring context to common struggles felt by the elderly. Understanding the link between physical and emotional feelings of warmth can help when caring for older adults this winter. This should be taken into consideration, particularly for those living on their own.
The Campaign to End Loneliness says it can increase your risk of death by 26 per cent. With the number of over-50s expected to be experiencing loneliness by 2025 set to reach two million, it’s clear that steps need to be taken to combat the condition.