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Perils of Social Isolation, How it Can Shorten Your Life

Mar 26, 2013 09:05 PM EDT

A new study says that being socially isolated from the friends and family could raise your risk of dying early, particularly in the elderly.

Researchers from the University College London found that social isolation alone raises a middle-aged or elderly person's death risk, independently of how lonely he or she feels.

A new report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences released Tuesday say that researchers from the University College London found that limited contact with family, friends and community groups predicts illness and earlier death, regardless of whether it is accompanied by feelings of loneliness.

The scientist's looked at data from 6,500 people aged 52 and older enrolled in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, which monitors the health, social well-being and longevity of people living in England. The researchers gave out questionnaires analyzing the study participants' loneliness levels at the start of the study, and then followed up with the participants after seven years to see how they were doing.

"They're dying of the usual causes, but isolation has a strong influence," said study author Andrew Steptoe, an epidemiologist at University College London.

The study goes on to highlight the need for increased social support for the elderly, even as it adds to debate over the intertwined effects of social contact and feelings of loneliness in old age. Previous studies have shown higher instances of conditions such as heart disease and dementia among those who live in isolation.

"Lifestyle may be relevant, including habitual health-risk behaviours such as smoking, inactivity, and unhealthy diets and health-protective behaviours such as adherence to medical recommendations, all of which may be vulnerable to lack of social support," said Professor Andrew Steptoe, lead author of the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

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