- Reviewed by Anthony L. Komaroff, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Health Letter
Loneliness and isolation both contribute to adverse health consequences. Research has shown that people who are lonely or feel isolated have increased risks for chronic disease, cognitive decline, an inability to perform daily living tasks, and an early death. But loneliness and isolation are two distinct problems — and it's possible to have one and not the other. An observational Harvard study published September 2023 in SSM–Population Health sought to find out if one problem might be more dangerous than the other. Researchers analyzed the health data of almost 14,000 people (ages 50 or older) who were followed for four years. Both loneliness and isolation were associated with poor health outcomes. But social isolation (living alone or not spending time with family and friends) was a stronger predictor of physical decline and early death. Loneliness was more predictive of mental health issues, such as depression or feeling that life had no meaning. The bottom line: Both loneliness and isolation matter and fuel each other. You can fight them by making an effort to stay connected to others. And if you feel lonely, whether or not it's because you're isolated, it might be time to seek guidance from your doctor.
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About the Author
Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter
About the Reviewer
Anthony L. Komaroff, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Health Letter
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