In a new study from at University of California San Diego, researchers found social isolation and loneliness were each associated with a higher risk for heart disease in older women.
Social isolation is the quantifiable measure of social interactions in relationships.
Loneliness is the perceived level or feelings of being socially isolated and reflects a feeling of isolation, lack of companionship and feeling left out.
In this time of COVID-19, many people are experiencing social isolation and loneliness, which may spiral into chronic states of social isolation and loneliness.
It is important to further understand the acute and long-term effects these experiences have on cardiovascular health and overall well-being.
In the study, the team examined data from a large, multi-center study of women across the U.S. Nearly 60,000 women with no prior history of cardiovascular events (age 73 to 85).
They focused on the possible links between social isolation and loneliness and the women’s risk of heart disease events.
To measure loneliness, researchers used a validated scale (the 3-Item UCLA Loneliness Scale).
Social Isolation was measured by an index score derived from these questions: whether you are married or in an intimate relationship, whether you live alone and the frequency of social activities — being with friends or family, communicating with friends or family, attending church, going to cultural events, eating out or shopping.
Researchers found the risk of heart disease events in the women were 16% higher in those who experienced high levels of social isolation;
11% higher in those who experienced high levels of loneliness; and 29% higher in those with both high levels of social isolation and loneliness.
The team says people who experience social isolation or loneliness tend to withdraw and don’t engage often in healthy behaviors, which may become a cyclical pattern.
Over time, the unhealthy behaviors coupled with social isolation and feeling lonely put them at an increased risk for heart disease.
The researchers recommend future studies should explore ways to address women’s needs for social connection.
Some women experience loneliness after being diagnosed with a serious illness and others after the loss of a child, spouse, or family member/loved one.