SUMMARY: According to the CDC “loneliness and social isolation in older adults are serious public health risks affecting a significant number of people in the United States and putting them at risk for dementia and other serious medical conditions”. Social isolation takes a heavy toll on those who suffer from it, both in health and overall well-being. An effort to quantify the cost of loneliness in the US also found that among Americans aged 65 or older, social isolation costs the US government nearly $7 billion in additional health care costs per year.
A medical study found that a sizable proportion of those aged 60 years and older in the United States reported loneliness. Regression results showed that chronic loneliness was significantly and positively associated with physician visits. The pandemic has increased loneliness for many people, and even Millennials are reporting they are lonely and not having much sex.
Loneliness and physical health
- Loneliness increases the likelihood of mortality by 26%
- The effect of loneliness and isolation on mortality is comparable to the impact of well-known risk factors such as obesity and has a similar influence as cigarette smoking.
- Loneliness is associated with an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke.
- Loneliness increases the risk of high blood pressure.
- Social isolation and loneliness are risk factors for the progression of frailty.
Loneliness is not thought of as a health issue but as you can see above it can lead to several physical health issues. How can physicians identify people who are lonely and high risk for other health issues as a result?
The first step would be to educate physicians on what to look for when evaluating patients but it needs to go further than that with recommendations and measurement criteria. In a 2017 AARP study, the cost to Medicare of social isolation and loneliness was estimated at $6.7 billion annually. Specifically, the increased cost was due to the higher health care costs of socially isolated and lonely seniors
What can pharma do?
This is a thorny issue. Other hand drugs to treat depression, there is no medical treatment for loneliness. However, pharma can alert caregivers, in associated health content, that loneliness can lead to a rapid deterioration of a loved one’s health.
Again, this is “general health content” and focuses more on prevention than treatment, but at some point in time, pharma has to look at ways to get closer to people beyond selling them s prescription. By making people and caregivers aware of the symptoms of loneliness, we can help spread the word that loneliness can lead to serious health issues.