The impact of loneliness on old age on life expectancy and health

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In 1966, the Beatles consolidated the situation of lonely seniors in the popular imagination with “Eleanor Rigby,” a song that turned pop music into a head when it remained at No. 1 on the British charts for four weeks. Today, the impact of loneliness on old age on life expectancy and health has been categorically quantified for the first time in a study by scientists at Duke-NUS Medical School (Singapore), Nihon University (Tokyo). , Japan) and its contributors, published in Journal of the American Society of Geriatrics.

“We have found that lonely older adults can expect to live a shorter life than their peers who do not perceive themselves as lonely,” said the study’s lead author, Adjunct Professor Rahul Malhotra, head of research by the Duke-NUS Aging Research Center. and Education (CARE). “In addition, they pay a fine for their shorter life by losing potential years of good health.”

Associate Professor Angelique Chan, executive director of CARE and lead author of the study, noted: “In addition to being the year associated with coronavirus disease, 2019 was also when the number of adults over 30 years constituted half of the total world population for the first time in recorded history, marking the beginning of an increasingly aging world.As a result, loneliness among the elderly has become a problem of social and of public health “.

Research project professor Yasuhiko Saito of the University of Nihon’s Faculty of Economics, senior co-author of the study, added: “This study is timely because measures to stay home and distance were established. since the beginning of COVID-19 the pandemic has only intensified concern for the mental and physical well-being of older people. “

Main conclusions: loneliness has real physical consequences

The results of the study show that 60-year-olds who perceive themselves alone or mostly alone can expect to live three to five years less, on average, compared to peers who perceive themselves as ever lonely. Similarly, at age 70 and 80, lonely seniors can, on average, expect to live three to four and two to three years less, respectively, compared to non-lonely peers.

Using the same data set, the researchers found that the perception of loneliness has a similar impact on two types of health expectancy: the remaining years of life lived in a self-assessed state of good health, as well as the remaining years of lived life without limitation when doing “activities of daily living.” These activities include routines such as bathing and dressing, getting up or sitting on a bed or chair, and preparing meals.

At age 60, sometimes lonely or mostly lonely seniors can expect to spend three to five years less of their remaining life, on average, with no limitations on activities of daily living, compared to never-alone peers. At age 70, his active life expectancy drops from two to four years less, on average. At 80, he is between one and three years younger, on average.

How common is loneliness among older adults in Singapore?

Singapore is a particularly relevant environment for studying how loneliness affects older adults because the country has a rapidly aging population and a “collectivist” culture, in which relationships and interconnection between people are central, in contrast to a “individualistic” culture, where the needs and desires of each are considered more important. Previous studies found that levels of loneliness were higher in collectivist societies, suggesting that loneliness may have a more detrimental impact on Singapore society.

In 2016 and 2017, CARE researchers conducted a study, known as The Transitions in Health, Employment, Social Engagement, and Intergenerational Transfers in Singapore (THE SIGNS), to examine the factors influencing health, the welfare and activity and productivity levels. in Singapore older. Nationally representative data, collected from more than 2,000 older Singapore citizens and permanent residents, showed that a third (34%) felt lonely. This proportion increased with age, from 32 percent among those aged 60 to 69 years, to 40 percent among those aged 80 and over.

More men (37 percent) were alone, compared to women (31 percent). At all levels of education, the proportion of older lonely Singaporeans was lower (33 per cent) among those without formal education and higher (38 per cent) among those with higher than tertiary education. This proportion was almost 10 percent higher among older people living alone (43 percent) compared to those not living alone (33 percent).

“Based on the study THE SIGNS, our recent findings highlight the impact of loneliness on the health of the population and the importance of identifying and managing it among older adults,” the professor said. Malhotra, Asst. “This is part of a series of studies to assess the impact of important social and health constructs, such as loneliness, sensory impairments, obesity, gender and education, on life and health. hope between . “

“With older people at increased potential risk of loneliness as a result of pandemic control measures, there has been a growing political interest in loneliness around the world,” the Association said. Prof. Chan. “In 2018, the UK launched a national strategy to combat loneliness, and in 2021 Japan appointed a‘ minister of loneliness. ’We hope this study will help drive more policies to address loneliness. among the elderly. ”


How loneliness affects end-of-life experiences


More information:
Malhotra R, Tareque MI, Saito Y, Ma S, Chiu CT, Chan A. Loneliness and health expectancy among older adults: a population-based longitudinal study. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2021; 1-11. doi.org/10.1111/jgs.17343

Citation: “All Lonely People”: The Impact of Loneliness on Old Age Life and Health Expectancy (2021, July 7) Retrieved July 7, 2021 at https://medicalxpress.com/news/ 2021-07-lonely-people-impact -loneliness-age.html

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