Why loneliness can cause people to die sooner, according to new study

Make sure you spend quality time with your friends and family...

Social interaction could be the key to a longer life, according to this new studySocial interaction could be the key to a longer life, according to this new study
Social interaction could be the key to a longer life, according to this new study

People should try to visit friends and family at least once a month to stop them feeling lonely and reduce their risk of premature death, a new study suggests.

It comes as researchers found that people who never or rarely have the company of their nearest and dearest are more likely to die. Even those who live with someone else can be at risk if they are visited infrequently, academics said. Researchers from the University of Glasgow drew on data from the UK Biobank study – a long-term study tracking the health and genetics of almost half a million adults from around the UK. Loneliness has been linked to an increased risk of dying prematurely in a number of previous studies, but academics said they wanted to explore how different social interactions can impact a person’s risk.

The academics looked at five different types of social interaction reported by 458,146 people with an average age of 57 at the start of the study and then tracked them for an average of 12.6 years. During the follow up period, 33,135 people died, including 5,112 cardiovascular disease deaths. The research team then used this data to compare it to five measures of social interaction including people’s self-reported ability to confide in someone close, whether or not they “often” felt lonely.

The study, published in the journal BMC Medicine, found that people who reported being visited by friends and family less than once a month were more likely to die during the follow up period. Those who were never visited by friends or family were at a 39 per cent increased risk of death compared to those who were visited daily, the authors found.

They said that people who received friend or family visits on at least a monthly basis had a significantly lower risk of dying, suggesting that there was potentially a protective effect from this social interaction. But the reduced risk appeared to stay the same whether a person was visited daily, a few times a week, weekly or monthly.

“The risk seems to be (among) people who are very isolated, and never ever see friends and family or see them less frequently than once a month,” said study co-author Jason Gill, professor of cardiometabolic health at the University of Glasgow. “Ensuring that you visit your lonely and isolated relatives is super helpful thing to do because it seems to be important that people have a visit at least once a month.”

The researchers also found people who participated in weekly group activities – such as a singing class, going to church or groups like Men’s Sheds – were less likely to die during the study. Those who lived alone were also more likely to have died during the follow up period.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “This is very interesting new research which confirms just how useful it is for us as we age to have close friends and family members who visit and care about us. The emerging health or other problems an older person has are more likely to be spotted in this situation, and positive and timely action taken.

“It’s really easy for all of us, at any age, to ignore a health concern and put off doing something about it, but having someone close we can confide can make a real difference. If we have one or more relationships of this kind it is also much more likely that we will be urged to seek the professional help we need.

“For some older people the offer of going along with them to an appointment or at least helping with transport may make the difference between them actively pursuing a health concern or continuing to brush it off, until they become seriously unwell."

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