New research from the University of Chicago has found that loneliness has double the effect on early mortality then that of obesity.
Feeling extreme loneliness can increase an older person’s chances of premature death by 14%, according to research by psychologist Professor John Cacioppo. This compares with a 7% increase in mortality risk for obese people, found in previous research.
These findings add to the growing body of evidence showing the profound impact loneliness can have on health with 17% of older people in contact with family, friends and neighbours less than once a week and over half of all people aged 75 and over living alone.
Commenting on the findings, Helen Willis, dietitian at Wiltshire Farm Foods, said: “For healthcare professionals working in the community, it will come as no surprise that loneliness is more detrimental to health than obesity or poverty, particularly for older people. We know that mobility declines in later life, but add to this the impact of an ageing population, who increasingly live away from their nuclear family and the decline of tight-knit ‘neighbourly’ communities, and we are faced with a crisis of social isolation in later life.
“One area that we know is particularly affected by living alone is nutrition. Research affirms our anecdotal experience showing that people who live alone are less likely to eat well for many reasons from lack of appetite as we get older, to simply a disinclination to cook for one. In a world where our older communities don’t have families and friends to look out for them, it is even more important that healthcare professionals and community groups can spot the early indicators of health issues, like malnutrition, which can be severely impacted by living alone.”
Following the findings, the Campaign to End Loneliness has renewed its call for Health and Wellbeing Boards to provide further support. Currently, 61 of the 128 published HASWs acknowledge loneliness as a serious issue, yet over half of all health and wellbeing boards with published strategies have not recognised that loneliness is an issues that needs addressing.
Read the study in full at: http://news.uchicago.edu/article/2014/02/16/aaas-2014-loneliness-major-health-risk-older-adults