Loneliness is known to be a social problem among the elderly, but it can also have an impact on an individual’s health. A new study carried out by Danish scientists has looked at the one-year outcomes for heart patients and how being alone correlates with the chances of dying.
The team from Copenhagen University Hospital found that women without friends were three times more likely to die after treatment than their counterparts with lots of people in their lives. This was the case for heart attack, abnormal heart rhythm, valve disease and heart failure patients.
When it came to men, those who were lonely had double the risk compared to patients with friends. It’s now thought that loneliness is as serious a state as obesity when it comes to the influence it can have on a person’s health.
To carry out the study, 13,443 people filled out questionnaires after being discharged from five heart centres in Denmark. They were written to allow each patient to self report on their physical health, mental wellbeing and the quality of their life.
Records were also kept into the patients’ smoking and drinking habits to provide a control for death-inducing factors. It was, however, the data on whether they lived alone or with others that helped to form a picture of their interactions and level of company.
Among the findings was the fact that those who were lonely came out three times more likely to be anxious or depressed. On top of that they reported having a lower quality of life than those who said they enjoyed plenty of social interactions.
Looking at national registry data for a year after patients were admitted for heart issues, the researchers found loneliness increased the risk of death by 114 per cent in men. This was even higher in women at 192 per cent.
While living alone itself seemed to have no effect on women, it upped men’s chances of repeat heart disease by 39 per cent. While the team did not offer an explanation as to why there should be a link between loneliness and mortality, they pointed to studies with similar findings and underlined the importance that it should not be overlooked.
The scientists wrote: “Loneliness is associated with changes in cardiovascular, neuroendocrine and immune function as well as unhealthy lifestyle choices which impact negative health outcomes. There are indications that the burden of loneliness and social isolation is growing.
“Furthermore, increasing evidence points to their influence on poor health outcomes being equivalent to the risk associated with severe obesity. Public health initiatives should therefore aim at reducing loneliness.”
They pointed out that loneliness and social isolation are different. The former is a subjective state that affects some people more than others. The latter is a complete or near-complete lack of contact with other people. The two are connected, but those who have people around can still feel lonely.