An alarming—and, honestly, quite saddening—new study out of the University of Pennsylvania advises that cardiac patients could be a higher risk of death within one year of discharge from a hospital, simply if they feel lonely.
For this study, the researchers observed the mortality rates of 13,446 patients one year after their discharge from a specialist heart center. It is important to note that these patients had all been diagnosed with or have suffered from abnormal heart rhythm, coronary heart disease, heart failure, or heart valve disease within a year during 2013 or 2014. It may also be important to note that the average age of each patient was 66; 70 percent of these patients were men.
Upon being discharged from the specialty center, these patients shared their information regarding physical health, anxiety level, psychological well-being, depression, and overall quality of life. In addition, they shared data on their lifestyle, including smoking and drinking habits as well as how often they took their prescribed medications. Using national data, then, researchers determined if each patient was living alone or with other people and compared that against a national registry, one year later, to what might have developed.
After one year, they found that lonely women were as much as three times more likely to die from any cause then women did not feel lonely within that first year. Lonely men, similarly, were at least twice as likely to die from any cause.
In conclusion, the study authors write, “Loneliness is associated with changes in cardiovascular neuroendocrine and immune functions as well as unhealthy lifestyle choices which impact negative health outcomes. There are indications that the burden of loneliness and social isolation is growing.”
Additionally, they note more and more evidence continues to point at the influence of social isolation on poor health outcomes that are equivalent to a similar risk associated with severe obesity. Therefore, they deduce, public health initiatives should reflect more emphasis on reducing this social isolation. This is particularly important because “loneliness” is not included in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).