New research shows that social lifestyle characteristics are linked to an increased incidence of heart failure and risk factors for neurodegeneration. A person’s danger is more dependent on whether or not they feel lonely than on staying alone.
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In a recent study, published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, Kimia Shafighi of McGill University in Canada and colleagues found that social lifestyle characteristics, such as social isolation, are related to risk factors for neurodegeneration or dementia-related diseases.
On the other hand, loneliness and social isolation have also been related to an increased risk of heart failure, according to a recent study published in JACC.
Social detachment or isolation can be divided into two distinct but related components. Being dispassionately alone or having occasional social interactions is characterised as social isolation, whereas loneliness is considered a painful experience induced when someone’s actual degree of social engagement is less than they would prefer it to be.
Social Lifestyle Characteristics and Dementia
An increasing public health concern, Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) have a global annual cost of more than $1 trillion. The link between social lifestyle and other recognized ADRD risk factors is less clear, despite mounting evidence that social isolation raises the risk of the disease.
The new research involved data analysis on 30,097 participants in the Canadian Longitudinal Study of Aging and 502,506 participants in the UK Biobank.
Both researchers used questionnaires that asked about social support, frequency of social interaction, and loneliness. The study discovered a wide range of relationships between plausibly preventable ADRD risk variables and both social isolation and loneliness.
People who smoked more, drank alcohol excessively, had trouble sleeping, and neglected to engage in light to strenuous physical activity on a regular basis—all established risk factors for ADRD—had a higher likelihood of being socially isolated.
In the CLSA, for example, increased frequency of participation in group exercise was associated with a 20.1% reduction in the risk of feeling lonely and a 26.9% reduction in the likelihood of having insufficient social support.
Cardiovascular illness, vision or hearing loss, diabetes, and neurotic and depressed symptoms are only a few of the physical and mental health issues previously linked to ADRD. These diseases were also associated with subjective as well as objective social isolation.
Similarly, hearing loss in noisy situations was associated with a 29.0% increase in the risk of feeling lonely and a 9.86% increase in the probability of lacking social support in the UKBB.
According to a participant’s neuroticism level, the probabilities of feeling lonely and missing social assistance were also 3.7 and 1.4 times higher, respectively.
The authors come to the conclusion that social isolation may be a good target for preventive medical action and policy measures because it is more easily modifiable than hereditary or underlying risk factors for health.
Social Lifestyle Characteristics and Heart Attacks
Studies have revealed that social isolation and loneliness are significant risk factors for cardiovascular disease, but very little is known about how these social lifestyle characteristics are specifically related to heart failure.
Researchers examined data from the UK Biobank study, which tracked population health outcomes over a 12-year period and used self-report questionnaires to assess psychosocial characteristics including social isolation and loneliness.
Over 400,000 middle-aged and older persons were part of the cohort whose health outcomes were examined by researchers.
A researcher at Guangzhou Medical University in Guangzhou, China, Jihui Zhang, (MD, PhD) and the study’s senior author, noted that prior research on social isolation and loneliness has been inconclusive, inconsistent, and used various metrics.
The researchers discovered that the probability of hospitalisation or death from heart failure increased by 15% to 20% in both cases of social isolation and loneliness.
But they also learned that social isolation was simply a risk factor in the absence of loneliness. In other words, loneliness was more significant if a person was also socially isolated.
Even in cases when the individual was not socially isolated, loneliness increased risk. Men were more likely to experience loneliness and social isolation, and they were also more likely to engage in unhealthy habits and conditions like smoking and being overweight.
The fact that people can experience loneliness even while they are in partnerships or social interactions, according to Zhang, may be one explanation for these findings.
The study, according to Zhang, highlights the need for efficient screening instruments to identify social lifestyle characteristics like isolation and loneliness in normal clinical care, as well as a larger drive to increase social support. It also emphasises how crucial it is to discern between these two elements.