Ending Loneliness

Connecting with other people is central to living a Happy and Independent life, but IT’s not just our happiness at stake. Research shows that It is probably the single greatest risk factor for people’s health and well-being.

Loneliness is a word we often don’t like to use or hear but it’s important to think about because there are people out in our community who might be feeling lonely right now because of circumstances such as loss of a loved one, restricted mobility, ill health or a disability which makes it difficult for them to get out and make contact with other people in the community.

Everyone feels lonely at times in their lives, but it is chronic loneliness that poses a serious health risk. Research suggests that people need to attend to loneliness in “the same way they would their diet, exercise, or how much sleep they get.”

John Cacioppo, a neuroscientist from the University of Chicago, describes the effects of social isolation as being as real as thirst, hunger, or pain. “For a social species, to be on the edge of the social perimeter is to be in a dangerous position,” He suggests, “The brain goes into a self-preservation state that brings with it a lot of unwanted system responses and release of hormones.”

This combination of toxic effects can impair cognitive performance, compromise the immune system, and increase the risk for vascular, inflammatory, and heart disease.
Studies show that loneliness increases the risk for early death by 45 percent and the chance of developing dementia in later life by 64 percent. For those already living with memory loss, loneliness is also associated with accelerated cognitive decline in older adults.

On the other hand, a 2010 analytical review of 148 separate studies of nearly 310,000 people found that those who have strong ties to family and friends are as much as 50 percent less at risk of dying over any given period of time than those with fewer social connections.

Loneliness is clearly a major public health concern. And there is also considerable stigma about admitting to being lonely so it is often hard to reach out to people. ‘I must have done something to deserve becoming lonely.’ ‘Why would anyone want to talk to me?’

Social connection is one of the central pillars behind Holdsworth services and many of our programs are designed to provide the supports that people need to live a happy live with plenty of friends. But of course we can’t do this all by ourselves, so this year we will be calling on the community not only to support our work to end loneliness but to take action themselves by reaching out to other people in their community.

If you have a great idea about how we can overcome loneliness in the community we would love to hear it! Please call on 9302 3600 or email info@holdsworth.org.au