A recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association showed that social isolation and loneliness are associated with about a 30% increased risk of death from heart attack, stroke, or both.
“More than four decades of research have clearly demonstrated that social isolation and loneliness are associated with adverse health outcomes,” Scientific Statement Writing Group President Crystal Wylie Sene said in a statement.
The definition given by the study of social isolation refers to people who have little contact with others, that is, they do not build social relationships with family, friends or members of the same community.
On the other hand, loneliness is characterized by feelings of loneliness or less relationships with others than what the individual really wants.
Certain social and environmental factors, such as transportation, dissatisfaction with family members and natural disasters, are also conditions that weaken social bonds and can lead to isolation or loneliness.
While social isolation and loneliness are related, they are not the same thing. Individuals can lead relatively secluded lives and not feel lonely, and conversely, people who have a lot of social contacts can feel lonely.”
The research also suggests that the Covid-19 pandemic may have increased instances of social isolation and loneliness, particularly among young people, adults aged 18-25, the elderly, women and those on low incomes.
What’s more, research by Harvard University’s Making Caring Common Project portrays Generation Z (aged 18-22) as the most lonely group due to excessive social media use.
The data released by the researchers showed that there is a consistent link between social isolation, loneliness, and death from heart disease and stroke.
In detail, the two parameters increase the risk of heart attack and/or death from heart disease by 29% and increase the likelihood of stroke and death due to stroke to 32%.
“Social isolation and loneliness are also associated with worse expectations in individuals who already have coronary heart disease or stroke,” the expert added.
The research recognized, based on a six-year follow-up study, that people with heart disease who chose to live in social isolation died two to three times more often compared to individuals who did not.
In addition, the five-year survival (extension of life) for individuals with heart failure was 60% for isolated people and 62% for those living in isolation and depressed, which are low numbers compared to individuals with social contacts. Depression (79%).
Problems of social isolation and loneliness are not limited to these diseases alone. They also affect negative cardiovascular behaviors and brain health in general, such as lack of physical activity, sedentary lifestyle, and low intake of fruits and vegetables.
“There is an urgent need to develop, implement, and evaluate programs and strategies to reduce the negative effects of social isolation and loneliness on cardiovascular health and brain health, especially for at-risk populations,” Crystal says.
“Physicians should ask patients about their pace of social activity and whether they are satisfied with their level of interaction with friends and family. They should then be prepared to refer socially isolated or reclusive people — especially those with a history of heart disease or stroke — to community programs to help them connect with others.”
Most vulnerable groups
The study found that some groups are more susceptible to social isolation and loneliness, such as children, people from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, LGBT+ individuals, people with physical disabilities and rural residents, for example.
The risk of social isolation, more precisely, increases with age due to various influences, such as widowhood and retirement.
Scientists have shown that nearly a quarter of Americans aged 65 and over live in social isolation. The number increases when it comes to loneliness, which is common between 22% and 47% of them.
Older adults are part of the vulnerable percentage, and according to scientists, programs for physical conditioning, recreational activities, and psychological support, for example, are viable measures to reduce isolation and loneliness.
The president concludes, “More research is needed to examine the associations between social isolation, loneliness, coronary heart disease, stroke, dementia, and cognitive impairment, and to better understand the mechanisms by which social isolation and loneliness affect cardiovascular outcomes and brain health.” .
The study promotes awareness of the occurrence of cardiovascular disease and stroke and is collaborating with a healthcare database, but it does not prescribe any type of treatment.
In addition, scientists have struggled to find data about actions that can improve the cardiovascular health of isolated or lonely people.
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