Is Loneliness Impacting Your Brain Function?
Do you ever feel lonely or disconnected from others? You may feel like you’re the only one, but loneliness can affect anyone, even people who seem to have it all. Take former Today Show host Kathie Lee Gifford, for example. She struggle when her husband and her mother both died, then her adult children moved out of the family home. “I was dying of loneliness,” she told The Tennessean in an interview.
You don’t have to be suffering from grief to experience feelings of loneliness. Sports Illustrated model Georgia Gibbs recently took to Instagram in a revealing post, saying:
“…honestly, I just get super lonely sometimes. Loneliness I feel is still associated with a stigma, a feeling we are ashamed of and don’t really talk about…”
Loneliness can strike anyone at any age. In fact, a 2019 study in International Psychogeriatrics found that loneliness peaks at three periods in life: during the late 20s, mid-50s, and late 80s. Be aware that loneliness does not necessarily mean being alone or not having friends. It is subjective distress, meaning the discrepancy between the social relationships you have versus the ones you want.
A Lonelier Planet
Loneliness is on the rise. About 1 in 3 U.S. adults age 45 or over say they feel lonely, according to research by the AARP Foundation. Baby Boomers are aging alone more than any generation in U.S. history. About 10% of Americans who are 50 or older don’t have a spouse, partner, or living child. And other sad statistics from a 2017 survey show that more than 1 in 8 people report having no close friends. Former Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy calls the rising number of lonely people a silent epidemic.
How Loneliness Affects the Brain
This is troubling because humans are social animals. Social connectivity is hard-wired into our brains. Loneliness or social isolation isn’t good for you, and it certainly isn’t good for your brain. Mounting evidence, including research in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, shows that when we are lonely and/or disconnected from others, it can have negative consequences for us cognitively, emotionally, and physically.
The loneliest among us experience cognitive decline 20% faster than people who are connected to others, and loneliness has been associated with depression, social anxiety, addictions, even hoarding, according to an article in Psychology Today. And loneliness is a recognized risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. The physical damage associated with being lonely was found to be equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to social-connectedness expert Julianne Holt-Lunstad.
The Social Media Lie
Why is it that in this age of “social media” we’re feeling more lonely? Social media is rapidly replacing in-person connections, but checking in with people online doesn’t provide us with the same benefits as socializing face-to-face. In fact, in a 2018 study, there was a clear, causal link between Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram and depression and loneliness, especially in teenage girls. A 2019 study in Body Image found that these sites also make vulnerable people feel worse about their bodies.
In my book, The End of Mental Illness, I talk about many of the social factors, including loneliness, that negatively impact mental health and cognitive function. And I offer simple, yet powerful steps you can take to improve the social connections in your life so you can enhance your brain health and psychological well-being.
The End of Mental Illness is written by psychiatrist, neuroscientist, and brain health expert Dr. Daniel Amen and relies on the latest neuroscience and leading-edge brain imaging to show that mental health is really brain health. The book reveals that “mental illnesses” are really “brain health issues” that steal your mind, and it shows how enhancing the 4 circles of your life (biological, psychological, social, and spiritual) can minimize “psychiatric” symptoms. Order your copy here.
If you want to join the tens of thousands of people who have already enhanced their brain health and overcome their symptoms at Amen Clinics, speak to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.