Loneliness Can Damage Health, Can Possibly Cause Neurological Problems

Loneliness is often a serious problem in an industrialized society. If you’re really feeling down, you can send me an email or try to contact me otherwise, for whatever that’s worth. I know the struggle of isolation all too well, and I therefore feel some responsibility for trying to help others through that.

It turns out that feeling lonely can do more than make you sad: It can predict the way your body will respond to and bounce back from various health challenges. Lonely people are more likely to get sick, and researchers want to know why.

Three of them recently spoke about the current state of loneliness research and how scientists are responding. You can listen to their discussion on Aspen Ideas to Go, the podcast of the Aspen Ideas Festival, or watch the discussion online.

The 40-minute conversation covers such topics as what loneliness seems to do in the body — including increased inflammation and neurological and genetic changes — and how health-care providers are reacting.

For years, researchers have linked loneliness to poor health. People who say that they’re lonely are more likely to have dementia and inflammation, and to die prematurely. And in research presented to the American Psychological Association this summer, Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor at Brigham Young University who participated on the Aspen panel, posited that loneliness is a bigger public health risk than obesity.