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Home Alone Wasn't Just Bad for Macaulay Culkin

What everyone ought to know about loneliness.

If you maintain regular interaction with friends and family, everything in your life will be better. If you don’t, odds of bad things, such as cognitive decline and premature death, increase.

Isolation and Loneliness Can Be Deadly

From the UCLA Healthy Years Newsletter:

Prolonged loneliness and isolation can have serious effects on your health. It can increase bouts of depression and sadness, disrupt sleep, elevate blood pressure and raise levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Research has shown that extreme loneliness can increase your chances of early death by 14 percent. In fact, loneliness is put in the same risk category as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and has twice the impact on premature death as does obesity.

The University College London (UCL) and Manchester University have been conducting an ongoing multi-year study called ELSA -English Longitudinal Study of Aging. They reported this finding:

                Social isolation was associated with poor scores on all measures of cognitive function.

John Cacioppo is a psychologist and neuroscientist. He has been studying the effects of loneliness and social isolation for over twenty years, most recently as a Professor and Director, Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago. In an interview in The Guardian, he noted:

When you allow for all the other factors, you find that chronic loneliness increases the odds of an early death by 20%.
For one thing, we found that loneliness decreases the effectiveness of sleep. You have sleep fragmentation and you always wake up tired. The cumulative wear and tear is greater if you lonely than if you are not. You cannot make a direct line to heart disease or cancer, but you can certainly see the effects on the immune system.

 A Cure: Friendships

Angela Troyer, the program director of neuropsychology and cognitive health at Baycrest Hospital in Toronto, Nicole Anderson, Associate Professor of Psychiatry & Psychology at the University of Toronto and Kelly Murphy PhD, Clinical Neuropsychologist at Baycrest wrote Living with Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Guide to Maximizing Brain Health and Reducing Risk of Dementia. 

In a Psychology Today article, Professor Troyer wrote: “Did you know that connecting with friends may also boost your brain health and lower your risk of dementia?” She went on to make these four points about social interaction: you may live longer, you will enjoy better physical health; you will enjoy better mental health; and you may even lower your risk of dementia.

In Anderson, Murphy and Troyer’s work, they’ve determined that getting out and doing stuff with friends results in a stronger immune system, and reduces the risk of depression. Further, those interactions are associated with better memory and cognition, or, the construction of the important brain attribute “cognitive reserve”. Cognitive reserve seems to help our mental capability as we age.

Your Brain Wants You to Hang Out and Do Stuff With Your Friends

My late father was a member of a church-based group called “The ROMEOS”. Yes, that really was the name of the group. And yes, it was church-based. ROMEO is an abbreviation of “Retired Old Men Eating Out”. Once a week, they went to a restaurant. It forced older men to get up, moving, and out with friends. At that point in his life, he could no longer drive and my mother, his wife and companion for over sixty years, had passed. He looked forward to that weekly encounter.

The implications are rather clear: it isn’t just important to have close friends, it is essential to good health. Go to church. Some sources recommend volunteering as a way to meet new people and develop new relationships. Attend lectures at the library. Meet a friend at Starbucks. Set a schedule to call a family member every week.

And may we suggest one of our Multiplayer Educational Games, Multiplayer Brain Games or a two-player strategy game? Have some family over for game night, or meet a friend and play go. It’s a great way to be social and beat loneliness.

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