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Health - Loneliness

Most people will feel lonely at some point in their lives. It’s a deeply personal experience that - in most cases - will thankfully pass. But for a growing number of people, particularly those in later life, loneliness can define their lives and have a significant impact on their wellbeing.
Feeling lonely doesn’t necessarily mean you have no one nearby. You may be surrounded by friends and family but still feel lonely.

You may be lonely for a number of reasons:

  • perhaps you’ve lost a loved one
  • moved away from friends and family
  • lost the social contact and enjoyment you used to get from work
  • have health problems that make it difficult for you to go out and do the things you enjoy.

No one should have no one and yet many older people feel cut off from society. It's important to know that you're not alone.

Over recent years we've gained a greater understanding of the impact loneliness has on our health.
We now know that, for example, the effect of loneliness and isolation can be as harmful to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and is more damaging than obesity.
It is associated with depression, sleep problems, impaired cognitive health, heightened vascular resistance, hypertension, psychological stress and mental health problems.

What you can do
There are a number of things you can do to tackle loneliness:

  • Take advantage of services that tackle loneliness for example the Age Concern New Zealand Accredited Visiting Service which matches a lonely older person with a volunteer visitor for friendship
  • You might want to consider joining a group. This can be a good way to build new and meaningful friendships, and help you to regain your confidence. You can visit the community notice board for ideas on educational, physical or social groups.

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A connected society: A strategy for tackling loneliness (UK)
This strategy sets out the approach to tackling loneliness in England. It marks a shift in the way we see and act on loneliness, both within government and in society more broadly.
It builds on the work of many organisations and individuals over the years, and is government’s first major contribution to the national conversation on loneliness and the importance of social connections. This strategy is an important first step, government is also committed to long-lasting action to tackle the problem of loneliness. Read the strategy.

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Loneliness in New Zealand: A report for Age Concern New Zealand
In June, Graeme Colman of Horizon Research conducted an online poll for ACNZ of 1,000 New Zealanders aged 15 and over. Respondents answered questions about aspects of loneliness, barriers to connection, and what would help people to connect. This report summarizes the findings, which will be used to inform our ongoing  work to reduce loneliness.  Across this online sample, prevalence of severe loneliness was found to decrease with age. In contrast, findings from the New Zealand General Social Survey 2016 found that the 15-24 and 75+ age groups were more  likely than other age groups to have felt lonely most / all of the time in the four weeks prior to the survey. The GSS uses face-to-face interviews.

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Two different takes on loneliness

Is Loneliness a Health Epidemic?
In this opinion piece in the New York Times Sunday Review, Eric Klinenburg (author of "Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Benefits of Living Alone"), draws on his research to conclude that the loneliness statistics cited by those who say we have an epidemic are outliers, and that though social disconnection is a serious matter, whipping up panic about its prevalence and impact makes it less likely that we will deal with it properly. 

Using technology to tackle loneliness
This report, from IBM discuss the social and economic effects of loneliness among the older population, and describe technical solutions that have potential to create meaningful connections, and reduce health and care needs of isolated older adults

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Loneliness actually hurts us on a cellular level
A scientist explains how the pain of loneliness makes us sick.
Loneliness actually hurts us on a cellular level In this interesting article by scientist Brian Resnick he explains how the pain of loneliness makes us sick. “Humans are social animals” is a phrase often repeated by psychologists to sum up why we’ve been such a successful species. Our ability to live, work, and cooperate in groups is the key to our survival.
But it comes with a tradeoff. Companionship is an asset for human survival, but its mirror twin, isolation, can be toxic.
Loneliness is associated with higher blood pressure and heart disease — it literally breaks our hearts. A 2015 meta-review of 70 studies showed that loneliness increases the risk of your chance of dying by 26 percent. (Compare that to depression and anxiety, which is associated with a comparable 21 percent increase in mortality.)​
Researchers are trying to understand exactly how loneliness causes disease at the cellular level. And they’re finding that loneliness is far more than a psychological pain — it’s a biological wound that wreaks havoc on our cells. To read the full article go to
http://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/1/30/14219498/loneliness-hurts

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Social isolation a high risk for poor health
Having family and friends around who look out for you and are supportive can have a really positive impact on the way you feel about you life, but what happens when you don't?

Senior lecturer in older persons' health at the University of Otago Dr Hamish Jamieson is studying the impacts of a lack of social engagement, as part of research for the Ageing Well National Science Challenge. Click here to read more

Looking out for one another social isolation and loneliness - recognising the signs in friends, family and yourself contains a social isolation checklist

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What loneliness is doing to your heart
You may have heard that loneliness is hazardous to your health — and can even lead to an early death. Now, an analysis of 23 scientific studies gives us numbers that reveal just how sick it can really make you.
People with “poor social relationships” had a 29 percent higher risk of newly diagnosed heart disease and a 32 percent higher risk of stroke, according to the study, published July 1 in the British journal Heart.

That puts loneliness and social isolation on par with other known risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as anxiety and job strain, the researchers said. And it exceeds the risk posed by physical inactivity and obesity, said lead researcher Nicole Valtorta, of the Department of Health Sciences, University of York, England.....read more

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