The Impact Loneliness and Isolation has on our Brains

By Gleria and Tommy Anderson
Home Care Assistance

This article is from a Harvard study that describes…By Dr. Bullock

With the world being piqued with COVID over the past 2 years family and friends are having to distance with little physical contact, I felt this would be the perfect article to raise awareness of loneliness and its affect on our brains.  I visited a friend over the New Year’s weekend who lives here in Huntsville, and she mentioned that her son came by to visit, who is not vaccinated and lives in Madison. During the visit he said to her “I wish I could hug you”.  GA

Dr. Bullock study shows that many American seniors spend most their lives lonely and isolated from the outside world.  While everyone enjoys a little alone time too many seniors, remaining isolated does more than diminish joie de vivre.  It can increase the risk of disease and may even precipitate an early death.

The Science Behind Excess Alone Time on Senior Brains

A 2010 survey sponsored by AARP, referenced in the Harvard Health blog, revealed that 35% of American adults aged 45 and up felt lonely.  What’s more, their sense of isolation increased over time — 56% of the lonely respondents “had fewer friends at the time of the survey than five years earlier.”

The evidence is mounting that loneliness and social isolation affect the way our brain’s function. In the same article, Christopher Bullock, MD writes that when it comes to loneliness, “we now know it is not just a feeling, but a condition that has a very real effect on the body.”

“Humans are social creatures,” Bullock goes on. “Among ourselves we form all kinds of complex alliances, affiliations, attachments, loves, and hates. If those connections break down, an individual risks health impacts throughout the body.”

Studies began documenting the correlation between loneliness and illness some thirty years ago. Bullock reports that “social isolation was a major risk factor for mortality, illness, and injury, and in fact was as significant a risk factor as smoking, obesity, or high blood pressure.”

Other studies link loneliness with inflammation and neurological changes. For instance, lonely people experience dementia more frequently and risk premature death.  And in a paper shared at the American Psychological Association meeting, Brigham Young University professor Julianne Holt-Lunstead suggested that “loneliness is a bigger health risk than obesity.”

Conquering the Isolation Curse

While loneliness is very common, treating it is often challenging; but seeing as how a recent University of Chicago study concludes that “loneliness can make you sick,” researchers are increasingly drawn to figuring out this “invisible epidemic.”

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