There is now substantial evidence that having a lack of social connections significantly increases the risk of premature mortality.

The risk to health that loneliness can bring is greater than those associated with many factors that currently receive substantial public health attention and resources (e.g., obesity, physical inactivity, air pollution).

We want to make sure loneliness is treated as the huge public health concern it is.

This page outlines the main research into the impact of loneliness on our physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Loneliness and physical health

  • Loneliness increases the likelihood of mortality by 26% [1]
  • 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 [2]
  • Loneliness is associated with an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke [3]
  • Loneliness increases the risk of high blood pressure [4]
  • Social isolation and loneliness are risk factors for the progression of frailty [5]

Loneliness and mental health

  • Loneliness puts individuals at greater risk of cognitive decline and dementia [6]
  • Lonely individuals are more prone to depression [7]
  • Loneliness and low social interaction are predictive of suicide in older age [8]
  • Loneliness and isolation are associated with poorer cognitive function among older adults [9]

Pathways to loneliness

The pathways to explain how loneliness affects health are difficult to demonstrate. Three main pathways have been suggested: behavioural, psychological and physiological. For instance:

  • Social isolation and loneliness adversely influence activities of daily living that include functional status (individual’s ability to perform normal daily activities required to meet basic needs, fulfil usual roles, and maintain health and well-being) among older adults [10]
  • Have a direct influence on health related physiology such as blood pressure and reduced immune functioning [11]
  • People reporting loneliness have poorer sleep quality [12]
  • Both social isolation and loneliness were associated with a greater risk of being inactive, smoking, as well as reporting multiple health-risk behaviours including physical inactivity and smoking [13]
  • Loneliness is associated with lower self-esteem and limited use of active coping mechanisms [14]

Loneliness and social isolation may affect health independently through their effects on health behaviours. In addition, social isolation may also affect health through biological processes associated with the development of cardiovascular disease.

Loneliness and health and social care use

In addition, lonely people are more likely to rely on use of our health and social care services:

  • Older patients living along are 50% more likely to access emergency care services [15]
  • 40% more likely to have more than 12 GP appointments [16]
  • Independent risk of care home admission [17]
  • Reducing loneliness should reduce the demand for institutional care [18]

References