Researcher Calls for Increased Focus on Loneliness’s Impact on Health

Loneliness and social isolation can significantly influence health and lifespan, so why aren’t medical professionals addressing these problems more aggressively? Health care providers should see loneliness as a “vital indicator of wellness,” Shannon Halloway, PhD, RN, postdoctoral research fellow at Rush University College of Nursing writes for NextAvenue.

New parents and older adults are especially likely to suffer from loneliness, Halloway writes. Approximately one-third of older adults say they are lonely. Besides increasing depression, loneliness can increase an individual’s likelihood of suffering from heightened inflammation, diabetes or even heart disease.

“Unfortunately, in the research world, we’re moving away from interventions and health behavior programs that encourage in-person social interaction,” Halloway notes. This can be because of cost, convenience and geographical distance.

Although some individuals say online communication helps reduce their loneliness, others say only in-person interactions help them. “MIT Professor Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together, explains that technology allows tight control over one’s image, limiting vulnerability and emotional connectedness crucial for proper development of relationships,” Hallway writes.

Loneliness is a health issue. Medical providers should brainstorm ways to establish in-person programs—perhaps using community spaces for meetings—to combat this problem.

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