Washington: A new study has revealed that feeling extreme loneliness can increase an older person's chances of premature death by 14 percent.
The study by John Cacioppo, professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, and his colleagues shows that the impact of loneliness on premature death is nearly as strong as the impact of disadvantaged socioeconomic status, which they found increases the chances of dying early by 19 percent.
A 2010 meta-analysis showed that loneliness has twice the impact on early death as does obesity, he said.
The researchers looked at dramatic differences in the rate of decline in physical and mental health as people age.
Cacioppo and colleagues have examined the role of satisfying relationships on older people to develop their resilience, the ability to bounce back after adversity and grow from stresses in life.
The consequences to health are dramatic, as feeling isolated from others can disrupt sleep, elevate blood pressure, increase morning rises in the stress hormone cortisol, alter gene expression in immune cells, and increase depression and lower overall subjective well-being.
Cacioppo, one of the nation's leading experts on loneliness, said older people can avoid the consequences of loneliness by staying in touch with former co-workers, taking part in family traditions, and sharing good times with family and friends - all of which gives older adults a chance to connect others about whom they care and who care about them.
The study was presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual meeting in Chicago.