Did you know that loneliness can be as bad for you as smoking 15 cigarettes a day?
New research from the University of York has revealed that loneliness takes a physical as well as a mental toll. The startling revelation came out of the biggest review of the the subject ever conducted, in which the University undertook a review of 23 studies which involved 181,000 people over a period of up to 21 years.
Previous studies have linked loneliness to development of a compromised immune system, high blood pressure and, ultimately to premature death. Dr Nicole Valtorta of the Department of Health and Well-being at the University of York reported that “The main finding of our review, that isolated individuals are at increased risk of developing Coronary Heart Disease and stroke, supports concerns over the implications of social relationships for health and well-being.”
What is Loneliness?
Loneliness is defined as a feeling of sadness because one has no friends or company, or as a sense of social isolation.
Risk Factors & The Elderly
When you look at the risk factors which can trigger loneliness, it becomes apparent why older people are at higher risk of being lonely. These risk factors were identified in the research as:
- Being aged 85 or over
- Living alone
- Having a limiting long-term illness
- Having dementia
- Being depressed
- Suffering from a visual or hearing impairment
Older people are more likely to have lost spouses/partners, and therefore to be living alone, whilst physical and/or mental impairments make it more difficult to get out and about in the community.
What Can We Do About It?
Of course Homesharing is a great way to combat loneliness – providing that much-needed companionship while preserving the Homeowner’s independence. Some other ideas that experts recommend are:
- Making new connections – join a club, go to a talk, join a book club
- Getting online – e.g. using Skype or Facetime to stay in contact with family and friends
- Opening up – tell someone that you are lonely and ask for help
- Befriending services – such as those run by the Social Care Institute for Excellence, Royal Voluntary Service and others
- Belonging to a church or religion
- Having a pet – good for your health and brings you into contact with others
Whether any of these ideas appeal to you, all experts agree that it can be a big step to even admit that loneliness is a problem. The advice is to take things slowly, do a little at a time and remember that anything you do is a step forward.
You may also find help through your GP surgery and local council.