London: Elderly people who are isolated and do not see friends or family regularly are at an increased risk of mortality, a new study has warned.
British researchers found that social isolation could dramatically increase the risk of mortality in both men and women, even after underlying health problems are taken into account.
Researchers studied lifestyles of 6,500 people aged 52 and over, who were followed over a seven-year period up until March last year.
The study concluded that simply enabling people to get out and about more often would not only make feel them less lonely but actively increase their life expectancy, The Telegraph reported.
Previous studies have shown higher instances of conditions such as heart disease and dementia among those who live in isolation.
Those who took part in the new study were asked a series of questions about their background, marital status, race, income and social life as well as having their health recorded over that period.
During the period of the study, just over one in seven of them died.
When researchers from the department of public health at University College London compared two groups, one judged to be very isolated and one well integrated, almost twice as many people in the first group had died as in the second.
When the figures were adjusted to take into account pre-existing health conditions or age, those who lived solitary lives were still up to 48 per cent more likely to have died.
The average risk of mortality for those who lived in isolation was 26 per cent, the researchers calculated.
The study, published makes a distinction between loneliness, which they classed as an emotional response to being alone, and isolation itself.
"Lifestyle may be relevant, including habitual health-risk behaviours such as smoking, inactivity, and unhealthy diets and health-protective behaviours such as adherence to medical recommendations, all of which may be vulnerable to lack of social support," said Professor Andrew Steptoe, lead author of the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The team said they had also excluded the possibility of "reverse causality", the idea that those who died were more isolated because of their poor health as opposed to having poor health because of isolation.