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Over 60? This Common Habit Could Be Deadly, Warns New Study

Social isolation may raise your risk of becoming seriously ill or dying.

Loneliness isn't necessarily something we think of in terms of illness or disease risk—and that might be hazardous to your health. Researchers at Yale Medicine recently discovered that in your older years, social isolation may raise your risk of becoming seriously ill or dying. Read on to find out how and why—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You May Have Already Had COVID.


What the Study Covered

Doctor wearing safety protective mask supporting and cheering up senior patient

Scientists analyzed data from older people participating in the National Health and Aging Trends study who were admitted to intensive care units between 2011 and 2018. The study subjects were asked questions about their social interactions, such as 

  • talking with family or friends about important matters
  • visiting with family members or friends
  • participating in social events or church 

Each person's level of social isolation was then ranked from 0 to 6.

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What the Researchers Found

Elderly woman stands by window look away.

The researchers found that each increase in social isolation scores was associated with a higher risk of disability and death. The most socially isolated older adults had a 50% higher "burden of functional disability" in the year after an ICU admission and a 119% greater risk of death.

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What You Can Do

mature mother and her adult daughter are drinking coffee

"Social isolation has become an increasingly pressing issue during the COVID-19 pandemic," says Lauren Ferrante, MD, MHS, a pulmonologist and critical care physician at Yale Medicine and senior author of the study. "Older adults who are socially isolated should have close follow-up after hospital discharge to ensure that they are receiving the medical care and rehabilitation that they need to recover. If you know an older adult who is socially isolated and recently discharged from the hospital, it's a good idea to check in on them and make sure they are getting the help that they need."

RELATED: Major Sign You May Have Alzheimer's, Says Study


Many Other Studies Say Social Isolation Is Risky

Moody aged man feeling unhappy.

One study found that social isolation can increase older adults' risk of dementia by 50%. And a recent study conducted in Finland found that men who reported feeling lonely over two decades were more likely to be diagnosed with cancer—and to receive a worse prognosis. 

RELATED: Everyday Habits That Age Your Body, Say Experts


Why Is Social Isolation Unhealthy?

Man With Heart Attack

Social isolation causes a stress response in the body, which can lead to chronic inflammation, a major risk factor for serious disease. According to a study published in the journal Antioxidants and Redox Signaling, this long-term inflammation can lead to the development of cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia—all conditions that have been repeatedly linked to loneliness. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more about Michael