Is Death By Loneliness Possible?
Social isolation and feeling of loneliness can increase the death risk among the elderly, a recently concluded study has inferred. It truly is a case of death by loneliness.
The findings of the study on death by loneliness were published in an edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study was conducted by a team of British Researchers headed by Andrew Steptoe, who is the director of Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care at the University College London. The research was titled ‘English Longitudinal Study of Aging’ and it was started back in 2004. The researchers had created a database of participants who were aged 52 and above. There was a total of 6,500 participants including men and women. Since 2004, the researchers observed the participants for 8 years.
At the start of the study, the participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire that detailed their present lifestyles, health conditions, and socioeconomic well-being. Whether or not they were socially isolated and if they were suffering from loneliness were recorded right at the outset. By the end of the study, 918 people of 6,500 participants had died and in every case, according to the initial analysis, social isolation and loneliness had been the reason for the prediction of an early death (death by loneliness).
However, Andrew Steptoe who headed the research stated in the findings that social isolation was a bigger concern than loneliness. Social isolation increased death risks even among those elderly who didn’t have any major health condition, mental or physical problem. Loneliness, on the other hand, increased the risk of an early date only in those elderly people who already had some kind of health condition.
The findings are extremely significant, given the fact that the elderly populace is increasingly getting socially isolated. For the purpose of reference, social isolation had been defined as limited social contact with family, friends and society at large or no contact at all. Loneliness was defined as how lonely an elderly felt and if one wanted to increase their contact with people. Loneliness was thus more of a perception which social isolation wasn’t. Besides, loneliness is often caused by social isolation in the first place. What the study also inferred is that social isolation is worse than a sense of feeling alone as the former actually impacts health and raises death risk while the latter simply makes one feel sad and doesn’t necessarily cause an adverse health problem unless there are physiological or mental problems existing already.
Stress and Isolation Can Cause Death By Loneliness
Everyone reacts to stress in different ways on an emotional level. On a physical level, however, all people operate in the same basic way, only with differences in effectiveness. The system which deals with stress is known as the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress ResponseSM. This response takes hold in the brain and moves down through the pituitary glands and onto the adrenal glands. If your adrenal system is exhausted and unable to react properly, you will have a difficult time finding the energy to properly adjust to stressful situations. This is known as Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS).
It is important to have a properly functioning NEM Stress Response along with healthy adrenal gland function so that you can start to focus on the emotional aspects of stress. Often times in our lives, we isolate ourselves because of excessive stress. Later in life, as we become seniors, we become less mobile and isolation is harder to combat. It can cause us to shut down and even ignore the outside world. As we discussed above, that type of isolation can lead to long term consequences that are very severe.
When the NEM Stress Response is activated, there is a strong mechanism known as the fight and flight response which can trigger an automatic response that encourages us to isolate ourselves. This is not a problem on the surface, but when hormone levels are left abnormally high for too long, it can begin to affect how we socialize.
Becoming aware of how stress affects our socialization and behavioral patterns is an important step to maintaining healthy relationships. Once we take a look at our social situations from a more objective perspective, it can become easier to make necessary changes. The first part, however, that should be examined is our physical health because without a proper stress response in our bodies, it’s not easy to function effectively.
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