The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Loneliness can increase risk of heart disease by 27 percent for older women

The study adds cardiac ailment to a list of potential health effects of loneliness and isolation that include dementia and mental health issues

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For older women, being lonely and socially isolated can increase the chance of developing heart disease by as much as 27 percent, according to research published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

Loneliness grows from individual ache to public health hazard

The finding adds heart disease to a list of potential health effects of loneliness and isolation that include dementia and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

Data from nearly 58,000 postmenopausal women who were tracked for more than a decade showed that, independently, social isolation increased heart disease by 8 percent and loneliness increased it by 5 percent, but the effect was much stronger for those who reported high levels of both feelings, giving them a 13 to 27 percent higher risk for cardiovascular problems than women with low levels of both. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for U.S. women, responsible for 1 in 5 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There’s a serious problem plaguing some older people: Loneliness

The researchers said that one-fourth of adults 65 and older are socially isolated (women more often than men) and one-third of those 45 and older feel lonely. Although similar, loneliness and social isolation are not the same.

One of the researchers described social isolation as “physically being away from people,” whereas loneliness is a feeling “that can be experienced even by people who are regularly in contact with others.” A socially isolated person is not always lonely, and a lonely person may not be socially isolated.

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