Loneliness linked to high BP in elderly
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adversely affect blood pressure in older adults, a new study reveals.
The new study at the University of Chicago
shows, for the first time, a direct relation between loneliness and larger
increases in blood pressure four years later – a link that is independent of age
and other factors that could cause blood pressure to rise, including body-mass
index, smoking, alcohol use and demographic differences such as race and income.
The researchers also looked at the possibility that depression and stress might
account for the increase but found that those factors did not fully explain the
increase in blood pressure among lonely people 50 years and older.
"Loneliness behaved as though it is a unique health-risk factor in its own
right," wrote researcher Louise Hawkley in an article, "Loneliness Predicts
Increased Blood Pressure," published in the current issue of the journal
Psychology and Aging.
Hawkley, Senior Research Scientist with the Center for Cognitive and Social
Neuroscience, is part of a University of Chicago research team that has been
doing pioneering work on the impact of loneliness on health and quality of life
issues. It includes Ronald Thisted, Chairman of Health Studies; Christopher Masi,
Assistant Professor in Medicine; and John Cacioppo, the Tiffany & Margaret Blake
Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology.
The team based its research on a study of 229 people aged 50 to 68. The randomly
chosen group included whites, African Americans and Latinos who were part of a
long-term study on aging. Members of the group were asked a series of questions
to determine if they perceived themselves as lonely. They were asked to rate
connections with others through a series of topics, such as "I have a lot in
common with the people around me," "My social relationships are superficial" and
"I can find companionship when I want it."
During the five-year study, Hawkley found a clear connection between feelings of
loneliness reported at the beginning of the study and rising blood pressure over
"The increase associated with loneliness wasn't observable until two years into
the study, but then continued to increase until four years later," she said.
Even people with modest levels of loneliness were impacted. Among all the people
in the sample, the loneliest people saw their blood pressure go up by 14.4 mm
more than the blood pressure of their most socially contented counterparts over
the four-year study period.
Lonely people's apprehension about social connections may underlie the blood
pressure increase. "Loneliness is characterized by a motivational impulse to
connect with others but also a fear of negative evaluation, rejection and
disappointment," Hawkley said. "We hypothesize that threats to one's sense of
safety and security with others are toxic components of loneliness, and that
hypervigilance for social threat may contribute to alterations in physiological
functioning, including elevated blood pressure."
- Times of India