Loneliness and social isolation may pose a greater public hazard than people may realize. The American Psychological Association states that about 42.6 million adults who are over the age of 45 in the United States are estimated to be suffering from chronic loneliness after they conducted a loneliness study. In addition, another study has surfaced that suggests that being lonely is worse than smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
The study was conducted by researchers at Brigham Young University in 2015. In order to prove their hypothesis that being lonely is just as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, the researchers analyzed data from different health studies. All the studies included more than 3 million participants that included data from social isolation, loneliness, and living alone.
The lead author of the study, Julianne Holt-Lunstad, explains that “the result of this study is comparable to obesity; something that public health takes very seriously.” She adds that people need to start taking social relationships more seriously. Hold-Lunstad adds that the results from her 2015 study are “Comparable to the risk of smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day. It exceeds the risk of alcohol consumption, it exceeds the risk of physical inactivity, obesity, and it exceeds the risk of air pollution.”
The study also found that increased social connection was linked to a 50% reduced risk of premature death. A 2016 Census found that one-person households accounted for more than 28% of all households. Since 2001, the number of couples that have children has been falling and only makes up 26.5% of all households, according to City News.
Hold-Lunstad believes that part of the reason why loneliness and isolation have not been in the spotlight is that it is vague terms, according to CBC News. Dr. Nasreen Khatri, a clinical psychologist and gerontologist at the Rotman Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences in Toronto explains that being around others is the easiest way to try and deal with isolation and loneliness is to be around others. Dr. Khatri adds that the presence of others can alter a person’s cortisol levels and stress hormone levels. Social connections protect people and help maintain exercise and healthy eating routines.
When it comes to dealing with the loneliness and isolation epidemic, the government needs to play its part in making funding available in certain areas. Dipika Damerla, Ontario Minister of Seniors Affairs explains that the Liberal Party has made funding available to help tackle social isolation amongst the elderly. She says: “I can tell you with confidence that the entire $155-million plan marries these two ideas which are that people want to live on their own as long as they can, but not at the cost of getting socially isolated.”
What To Do About Chronic Loneliness: According to Dr. Oren Amitay, a Toronto psychologist, one of the ways people can deal with chronic loneliness is to try and keep themselves busy with a hobby or project which gives them purpose. Dr. Amitay adds that for seniors who are isolated because of a lack of mobility, a pet can help.
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