How Loneliness Could Affect Longevity

Loneliness and social isolation may be tied to shorter life spans

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) People trying to live a longer life may need to do more than eat right and exercise — they may also need to make sure they maintain their social lives.

A new study looked at social isolation — through both the feeling of loneliness and the action of living alone — and found that these issues were tied to an increased likelihood of death.

"The effect of this is comparable to obesity, something that public health takes very seriously. We need to start taking our social relationships more seriously," said lead study author Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, in a press release.

Dr. Holt-Lunstad and team analyzed 70 studies published between 1980 and 2014. The average age of patients in these studies was 66 when the study period began, and they were followed for an average of 7.1 years.

These researchers wanted to explore both the more objective issue of "social isolation," marked by factors like having few social network ties, living alone or having infrequent social contact, and the more subjective topic of loneliness, a personal feeling of being lonely or emotionally isolated. The reviewed studies all involved how social isolation, living alone or loneliness might affect death rates.

After analyzing the results of these studies, Dr. Holt-Lunstad and team found that these loneliness factors seemed to affect death rates.

Social isolation was found to increase the risk of death by 29 percent. Loneliness was found to increase the risk of death by 26 percent. Living alone was found to increase the risk of death by 32 percent.

Dr. Holt-Lunstad and colleagues pointed out that these findings suggested little difference between subjective and objective measures of social isolation. These researchers pointed out that social isolation and loneliness may or may not go hand-in-hand, depending on a person's point of view and social preferences.

Perhaps surprisingly, these researchers found that these factors may have an even greater effect on risk of death among adults younger than age 65 than it does among older patients.

Dr. Holt-Lunstad and team noted that this is a complicated issue and many different factors might be involved. Further research is needed to understand more about the topic, they said.

This review was published in the March 2015 issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science.

Brigham Young University funded this research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
March 11, 2015
Last Updated:
March 17, 2015