Effects of loneliness mimic aging process

May 1, 2012 By Karene Booker, Cornell University

The social pain of loneliness produces changes in the body that mimic the aging process and increase the risk of heart disease, reports a recent Cornell study published in Psychology and Aging (27:1). Changes in cardiovascular functioning are part of normal aging, but loneliness appears to accelerate the process, say the researchers.

To investigate the effects of age and on , the researchers measured cardiovascular reactivity and recovery in 91 young adults (18-30 years old) and 91 older adults (65-80 years old) who presented a speech and did mental arithmetic in a lab setting. Individual differences in perceived isolation (loneliness) were assessed before the tasks, and systolic and diastolic blood pressure measurements were taken before, during and after the tasks.

"The most striking thing we found was that the cardiovascular response of the lonely young adults to the social stressor task looked more like that of the nonlonely older adults," said lead author Anthony Ong, associate professor of human development in Cornell's College of and co-author of the study with Jeremy Rothstein '10, now at the Yale University School of Medicine Child Study Center, and Bert Uchino of the University of Utah.

As expected, they found that older adults had higher resting blood pressure, greater cardiovascular stress reactivity and longer cardiovascular recovery times compared with younger adults. Loneliness increased each of these measures but had even greater negative effects in older adults, putting them at the greatest risk. The recovery time of the lonely older adults, on average, was so delayed, they did not return to baseline levels during the two-hour-long follow-up period.

While prior studies had found a link between loneliness and stress-induced changes in cardiovascular responses, this is the first to look at young and in the same study and is among a select few to analyze cardiovascular recovery rate.

"I think it's helpful to distinguish the emotional pangs that are associated with acute loneliness from the more chronic feelings of distress that accompany perceived deficits in the quality of our social relationships," Ong said.

"Viewed from this perspective, acute loneliness may be seen as adaptive, signaling us to repair social connections. However, it is the persistence of loneliness over time that may set the stage for health problems in later life," Ong said. "I think one of the most important and life-affirming messages of this research is the reminder that we all desire and need meaningful social connections."

Explore further: How lonely you are may impact how well you sleep, research shows

Related Stories

How lonely you are may impact how well you sleep, research shows

November 1, 2011
Loneliness is not only heartbreaking, it breaks up a normal night's sleep, a new study shows. Researchers say compromised sleep may be one pathway by which feelings of loneliness adversely affect our health.

Older adults who sleep poorly react to stress with increased inflammation

March 1, 2012
Older adults who sleep poorly have an altered immune system response to stress that may increase risk for mental and physical health problems, according to a study led by a University of Rochester Medical Center researcher.

Recommended for you

Study: No evidence to support link between violent video games and behaviour

January 16, 2018
Researchers at the University of York have found no evidence to support the theory that video games make players more violent.

Study listens in on speech development in early childhood

January 15, 2018
If you've ever listened in on two toddlers at play, you might have wondered how much of their babbling might get lost in translation. A new study from the University of Toronto provides surprising insights into how much children ...

Study suggests people dislike you more for humblebragging than for regular boasting

January 12, 2018
A team of researchers from Harvard University and UNC-Chapel Hill has conducted a study regarding humblebragging—in which a person boasts about an achievement but tries to make it sound less boastful by minimizing it—and ...

Can writing your 'to-do's' help you to doze? Study suggests jotting down tasks can speed the trip to dreamland

January 11, 2018
Writing a "to-do" list at bedtime may aid in falling asleep, according to a Baylor University study. Research compared sleep patterns of participants who took five minutes to write down upcoming duties versus participants ...

Study identifies brain circuit controlling social behavior

January 11, 2018
A new study by researchers at Roche in Basel, Switzerland has identified a key brain region of the neural circuit that controls social behavior. Increasing the activity of this region, called the habenula, led to social problems ...

Tamper-resistant oxycodone tablets have no impact on overall opioid use

January 11, 2018
The introduction of tamper-resistant opioid tablets does not have an effect on rates of opioid use or harms at a population level, according to a new study led by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) at UNSW ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.