Chronic Loneliness Predicts Diabetes

Over the past six months of distancing due to the pandemic, most people have sharply felt the loss of regular social interaction with friends, family, and co-workers.  But for many older adults, social isolation is nothing new. It can be an unfortunate result of growing old alone, lacking close relationships.  In a new study, seniors who lacked high-quality personal connections demonstrated a greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

According to a recent McKnight’s Long-Term Care News report, a study using 15 years of data from more than 4,000 adult participants in the English Longitudinal Study of Aging found self-reported loneliness measured at the start of the study to be a significant predictor of later type 2 diabetes onset.   The quality of relationships, rather than whether the study participants lived alone or were isolated, influenced the likelihood of developing diabetes.  

The study accounted for smoking, weight, blood glucose levels, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease.  People who reported feeling lonely from a lack of meaningful relationships demonstrated a greater predisposition for type 2 diabetes that was not associated with depression, living alone, or social isolation. 

Researchers believe ceaseless loneliness can lead to higher levels of stress that may damage the body, resulting in greater incidences of diabetes.  People who feel lonely much of the time may also take more health risks and have a harder time forming good relationships.  Men in particular are less likely to nurture friendships in adulthood due to the demands of work and family responsibilities, leaving them with fewer close relationships in older age, especially if they lose a spouse or are single.

Although it may take a little more effort or creativity to stay connected with people during the COVID-19 pandemic; it’s definitely worth taking time to plan small outdoor gatherings while the weather is pleasant or set up a weekly Zoom chat.  Fall is the perfect season to host a bonfire and taste some local cider, join a few friends for a hike, or plan an autumn “tailgate” party on the back deck and invite a few friends to watch the game on television.  A patio heater may be the best investment you make this season to extend your outdoor enjoyment and stay connected!