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Loneliness and early death: Study finds being lonely linked to premature death

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If loneliness is something you struggle with, then medically speaking, you may be dealing with more than a broken or forlorn heart. A new study has now linked loneliness as a risk factor for early death, reports Fox News on Monday.

A University of Chicago study has shown that those who feel consistently lonely are at a 14 percent higher risk of premature death than those who don't experience constant feelings of isolation.

Researchers also found that being poor increases the risk of early death even more – by 19 percent.

The study also showed that adults with heart disease are nearly 25 percent more likely to die if they live alone. A similar study suggested that the risk percentage of lonely seniors dying early may be as high as 45 percent. The stats back up what many of us know or have seen – an elderly relative perhaps dies, and their mate of many years dies shortly thereafter.

"Loneliness is a risk factor for early death beyond what can be explained by poor health behaviors," says psychologist John Cacioppo, director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago. "Feeling lonely isn't only unhappy; it's unsafe."

Cacioppo discussed his research Sunday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting in Chicago. The study reviewed survey responses from more than 2,100 adults, all 55 years and older.

According to USA Today, “Cacioppo and colleagues have found that feeling lonely and isolated from others can lead to less restful, restorative sleep, raise blood pressure, cause morning increases in the stress hormone cortisol, increase depression and lower the overall feeling of living a meaningful life.”

Cacioppo, who also is the co-author of Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connections, said that people "can escape the clutches of loneliness as they age" by staying in touch with family, friends and former colleagues. "People underestimate the importance of sharing good times with friends and family."

He continues: "What's really important is companionship and mutual assistance and protection. Having high-quality relationships with a few people is one of the keys to happiness and longevity. The stresses and challenges of life are more easily endured if we can share them with someone in whom we can confide and trust."

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