Whether you’re a life-of-the-party extrovert or a home-bodied introvert (or, like most of us, somewhere in between), you’ll no doubt agree that loneliness is a tough feeling to feel. But according to new research on aging, not only does loneliness feel bad, it can actually be harmful to us. Specifically, researchers have found that loneliness and isolation actually contribute to end-of-life decline.
Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco followed 1,600 adults with an average age of 71 for several years in an effort to quantify the effect of loneliness on quality of life as we age. After controlling for differences in socioeconomic status and health of the participants, scientists found that the lonely consistently had higher mortality rates. In fact, about 23% of lonely participants died within six years of the study, as opposed to only 14% of those who reported adequate companionship.
We’re social creatures by nature, and crave people who know us, value us, and bring us joy. So the deleterious mood effects of loneliness were not surprising, but the impact of being lonely on our health and lifespan caught researchers off-guard.
The antidote to the woeful effects of loneliness as we age? Simply put: maintaining connections. Whether with family, old friends or new acquaintances, older individuals with larger support networks are less prone to loneliness and tend to thrive well into later life. So do your aging family member (and yourself) a favor. Pick up the phone, make a dinner date, and stay connected. It’s hard to feel lonely when you’re spending time with someone you care about.