Loneliness may impact physical health


In the 1980s, 20 percent of Americans identified as lonely. That figure has now doubled to 40 percent. Psychologists know a human’s need for interaction is fundamental, so it’s no surprise that feeling lonely also has significant health consequences.

Loneliness first peaks between adolescence and young adulthood. It decreases during middle age before peaking again in adults over age 65.

Feeling alone affects mental and physical health

New research suggests loneliness causes the stress hormone cortisol to increase. Cortisol can increase inflammation in the body and affect the immune system. These factors may contribute to the host of medical concerns lonely people are at risk for, including:

Mental concerns

When feelings of isolation affect the brain, these may occur:

  • Alcoholism and drug abuse
  • Cognitive declines such as decreased memory and learning, or poor decision-making
  • Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Depression and suicide
  • Sleep disturbances

Physical concerns

Effects on the body from loneliness include:

  • Arthritis
  • 30 percent higher risk of premature death
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • 29 percent increased heart disease risk
  • 32 percent increased stroke risk

Isolation may not be due to loneliness

Researchers don’t believe that feeling lonely is always the result of poor social skills or a lack of social connections. Many lonely people perceive some social cues negatively and enter a mode of self-preservation, further isolating themselves. Therapy that helps people to perceive social cues better and improve interactions has shown promise.

When feeling alone is the result of physical proximity, other strategies have the potential to lessen the magnitude and ward off the mental and physical effects of isolation:

  • Access to transportation
  • The companionship of a pet
  • Assistance with household chores

If you or a loved one is experiencing chronic loneliness, UCLA Behavioral Health Associates can help identify treatments that support your emotional well-being. Request an appointment by calling 310-301-7396.