▎WuXi AppTec Content Team Editor
Evidence from previous studies suggests that social isolation or loneliness is associated with poor health outcomes for individuals. People are at increased risk of social isolation as they age, due to life factors such as retirement or widowhood. Currently, nearly a quarter of American adults aged 65 and over are socially isolated, while the corresponding proportion of the population with loneliness is even higher, ranging from 22% to 47%.
Recently, the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA) published a major scientific statement from the American Heart Association (AHA), pointing out that social isolation or loneliness is associated with heart disease, stroke and other causes of associated with a 30% increased risk of death from this disease. The statement emphasizes that data on interventions to improve cardiovascular and cerebrovascular health in socially isolated or lonely people are lacking, but fitness programs, recreational activities, and related interventions that improve self-esteem may reduce social isolation andthe effects of loneliness.
Screenshot source: JAHA
Social isolation refers to infrequent in-person contact with socially relevant people (e.g. family, friends, members of the same community, etc.). Loneliness is feeling alone, or less connected to others than one needs.
The paper highlights that while social isolation and feeling lonely are related, the two concepts are not the same. In other words, a person can live a relatively isolated life without feeling lonely, as opposed to being socially rich and still feeling lonely.
A body of research evidence spanning more than four decades clearly shows that social isolation or loneliness is associated with poor health outcomes for individuals, according to experts from the Current Science Statement writing group. In addition to adults and the elderly population, young people are also currently experiencing social isolation or loneliness.
A survey study from Harvard University showed that , “Generation Z (referring to the generation born between 1995 and 2009, mainly post-95s and post-00s) people ”Perhaps the loneliest generation. Increased levels of social isolation or loneliness among young people may be related to heavy use of social media and less participation in beneficial offline activities.
To assess the relationship between social isolation and cardiovascular and brain health, experts from the current scientific statement writing team analyzed relevant studies published through July 2021 and found:
Social isolation or loneliness is a common but underappreciated determinant of cardiovascular and brain health;
Lack of social connection is associated with an increased risk of all-cause premature death, especially in men;
Social isolation or loneliness is associated with increased inflammatory markers in individuals, and individuals with less social connection are more likely to develop chronic stress-related physiological symptoms; p>
When assessing risk factors related to social isolation, the results suggest that there is often a two-way relationship between social isolation and its risk factors, such as depression may lead to social isolation, and at the same time, social isolation may also Increased risk of depression;
Childhood social isolation is associated with increased cardiovascular risk factors in adulthood, such as obesity, high blood pressure, and elevated blood sugar levels.
Image source: 123RF
The paper highlights that there is currently strong evidence that social isolation or loneliness is associated with an increased risk of worsening heart and brain health in the overall population. Of these, the most consistent evidence was found for the association between social isolation or loneliness and death from heart disease, stroke, and both. Specifically, people who were socially isolated or lonely had a 29% increased risk of heart disease and related death; and a 32% increased risk of stroke and related death.
Not only that, but social isolation or loneliness is also associated with poorer outcomes in patient populations with a history of coronary heart disease or stroke. In a 6-year follow-up study, social isolation increased the risk of death in heart disease patients by 2-3 times. Adults with three or fewer social interactions per month had a nearly 40 percent increased risk of having a stroke or recurrent heart attack. Furthermore, the 5-year survival rate for heart failure was lower in the socially isolated population (79% and 60%, respectively) compared to the general population.
People with social isolation or loneliness are also more likely to have other behaviors that are detrimental to cardiovascular and cerebrovascular health, such as lower levels of physical activity, fruits and vegetables Less intake and more sedentary time. Multiple large studies have found that loneliness is significantly associated with a higher likelihood of smoking.
The paper points out that there is no effective intervention for socially isolated or lonely people, and exploratory intervention research is still needed in the future. Studies in selected older populations suggest that fitness programs, recreational activities, and related interventions that improve self-worth identity may reduce the effects of social isolation and loneliness.
Further, more research is needed to assess the association between social isolation, loneliness, coronary heart disease, stroke, dementia, and cognitive impairment, and to analyze the impact of social isolation or loneliness on the heart and brain Exhaustive mechanisms of vascular health.