Personal Health

Dying for Company: Social Isolation Increases Death Risk in Older People

Regardless of whether people consider themselves lonely, physically being isolated from friends and family comes at a price.

Photo Credit: Golovnev

Are you older than 52 and living far from family and friends? Well, if possible, you may want to reconsider.

A new study conducted in the U.K. has found that older people who live in social isolation have a 26 percent higher death risk over seven years. The study analyzed 6,500 men and women over the age of 52.

Researchers were surprised to learn that regardless of whether people said they felt lonely, if they had little or no contact with friends or family, their health was more at risk. While both isolation and feeling lonely were associated with a higher chance of death, when the study was adjusted for underlying health issues, only actual isolation had a prominent effect on health. According to the BBC, those effects included illnesses that limited mobility, like arthritis or lung disease. The study also noted that those with several health problems, and women in general, were more likely to say they felt lonely.

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The BBC stated that in the report, the study’s leader, Prof. Andrew Steptoe, wrote:

Social connections can provide emotional support and warmth which is important but they also provide things like advice, making sure people take their medication and provide support in helping them to do things.

Steptoe also noted a 50 percent increase of people ages 55 to 64 living alone in the past 15 years.

Michelle Mitchell, director general at Age UK, a charity organization for the elderly, told the BBC that cuts to social programs increase isolation for older people.

She said:

Across the country day care centers, often the only regular social life that many older people enjoy, are closing, social care support which can enable older people to leave the house is being cut down to the bare minimum, and too many older people are hidden behind closed doors struggling to cope.


Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet.