Loneliness as dangerous as smoking or obesity: Study

New York, Jan 12
Loneliness rivals smoking and obesity in its impact on shortening longevity and has become a public health concern, especially for the older adults, say researchers.

With older adults increasingly moving into senior living or retirement communities, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine sought to identify the common characteristics of residents who feel lonely in these environments.

The new study, published in the journal 'Aging and Mental Health', found that people's experience of living with loneliness is shaped by a number of personal and environmental factors.

Age-associated losses and inadequate social skills were considered primary risk factors for loneliness.

"Some residents talked about the loss of spouses, siblings and friends as the cause of their loneliness. Others mentioned how making new friends in a senior community cannot replace deceased friends they grew up with," said Alejandra Paredes, a research fellow in the Department of Psychiatry at University of California San Diego School of Medicine.

The feeling of loneliness was frequently associated with a lack of purpose in life.

Others expressed a sense of "not being attached, not having very much meaning and not feeling very hopeful" or "being lost and not having control".

The research team also found that wisdom, including compassion, seemed to be a factor that prevented loneliness.

Other protective factors were acceptance of aging and comfort with being alone.

To reach this conclusion, researchers conducted individual interviews of 30 adults of ages 67-92, part of an overall study evaluating the physical, mental and cognitive functions of 100 older adults living in the independent living sector of a senior housing community in San Diego.

"It is important that we identify the underlying causes of loneliness from the seniors' own perspectives so we can help resolve it and improve the overall health, well-being and longevity of our aging population," suggested senior author Dilip V. Jeste, senior Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

Sad people more prone to become chain smokers

Sadness, and not all negative emotions, lead people to smoking and turn it into an addictive behaviour, a first-of-its-kind set of four inter-woven studies has revealed.

A team of researchers based at Harvard University discovered that sadness plays an especially strong role in triggering addictive behaviour relative to other negative emotions like disgust.

"The conventional wisdom in the field was that any type of negative feeling, whether it's anger, disgust, stress, sadness, fear or shame, would make individuals more likely to use an addictive drug," said lead researcher Charles A. Dorison, a Harvard Kennedy School doctoral candidate.

"Our work suggests that the reality is much more nuanced than the idea of 'feel bad, smoke more.' Specifically, we find that sadness appears to be an especially potent trigger of addictive substance use," Dorison explained in a new report published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In the first study, researchers examined data from a national survey that tracked 10,685 people over 20 years.

They found that self-reported sadness among participants was associated with being a smoker and with relapsing back into smoking one and two decades later.

In the second study, the team tried to figure out whether sadness cause people to smoke, or were negative life events causing both sadness and smoking.

To test this, 425 smokers were recruited for an online study who watched video clips.

The findings showedthat individuals in the sadness condition - who watched the sad video and wrote about a personal loss - had higher cravings to smoke than both the neutral group and the disgust group.

A similar approach in the third study measured actual impatience for cigarette puffs rather than mere self-reported craving.

Similar to the second study, nearly 700 participants watched videos and wrote about life experiences that were either sad or neutral.

Those in the sadness group proved to be more impatient to smoke sooner than those in the neutral group.

"The result built upon previous research findings that sadness increases financial impatience, measured with behavioural economics techniques," the authors wrote.

The fourth study recruited 158 smokers to test how sadness influenced actual smoking behaviour.

Participants had to abstain from smoking for at least eight hours (verified by carbon monoxide breath test).

They were randomly assigned to sadness or neutral control groups.

The results: smokers in the sadness condition made more impatient choices and smoked greater volumes per puff.

"We believe that theory-driven research could help shed light on how to address this epidemic," Dorison said.