Loneliness and social isolation are harmful to our health: research shows that lacking social connections is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day (Holt-Lunstad, 2015). Social networks and friendships not only have an impact on reducing the risk of mortality or developing certain diseases, but they also help individuals to recover when they do fall ill (Marmot, 2010).

This page outlines the main research into the impact of loneliness on our physical and mental health and wellbeing. Full references can be found here.

Loneliness and physical health

  • Loneliness increases the likelihood of mortality by 26% (Holt-Lunstad, 2015)
  • The effect of loneliness and isolation on mortality is comparable to the impact of well-known risk factors such as obesity, and has a similar influence as cigarette smoking (Holt-Lunstad, 2010)
  • Loneliness is associated with an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke (Valtorta et al, 2016)
  • Loneliness increases the risk of high blood pressure (Hawkley et al, 2010)
  • Lonely individuals are also at higher risk of the onset of disability (Lund et al, 2010)

Loneliness and mental health

  • Loneliness puts individuals at greater risk of cognitive decline (James et al, 2011)
  • One study concludes lonely people have a 64% increased chance of developing clinical dementia (Holwerda et al, 2012)
  • Lonely individuals are more prone to depression (Cacioppo et al, 2006) (Green et al, 1992)
  • Loneliness and low social interaction are predictive of suicide in older age (O’Connell et al, 2004)

Maintaining independence

Academic research is clear that preventing and alleviating loneliness is vital to enabling older people to remain as independent as possible. Lonely individuals are more likely to:

  • Visit their GP, have higher use of medication, higher incidence of falls and increased risk factors for long term care (Cohen, 2006)
  • Undergo early entry into residential or nursing care (Russell et al, 1997)
  • Use accident and emergency services independent of chronic illness. (Geller, Janson, McGovern and Valdini, 1999)

More information

We regularly summarise the latest research in a quarterly Research Bulletin, which is sent exclusively to organisations and individuals who have signed up as supporters. Archived editions of the Bulletin can be found here.

If you are from a local authority or are a healthcare professional, view our practical resources about what can be done in your locality to tackle loneliness.