Limerick research finds that loneliness raises death risk for people with heart disease


RESEARCHERS at the University of Limerick have found that loneliness, social isolation, and living alone is associated with premature death for people with cardiovascular disease.

The research, which is published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine, sheds new light on the negative health impact of loneliness for people with cardiovascular disease, which is among the leading causes of death and disability in Ireland.

Cardiovascular disease most commonly refers to coronary heart disease, stroke, and other blood vessel diseases.

The research was led by Róisín Long, a student on the Doctoral Programme in Clinical Psychology at UL, under the supervision of Dr Páraic Ó Súilleabháin and Dr Ann-Marie Creaven.

“Social health factors such as loneliness and social isolation are really important in the context of cardiovascular health,” explained lead author Róisín Long, who is a professional clinical psychologist.

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“What was unclear is to what degree this impacts on how long people live when they have been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease,” she added.

“Our review found that each of these factors are critically important to consider in the treatment of cardiovascular disease, as increased levels of loneliness, social isolation, and living alone appears to lead to premature death.

“There are likely several reasons for this ranging from support from another individual to how an individual biologically responds to stress.”

The review included studies that followed people for decades across multiple regions including Europe, North America, and Asia. Each factor was found to be predictive of mortality risk.

The effects of living alone appeared stronger in European countries, perhaps reflecting the large number of those living alone in parts of Europe.

The study involved a team of collaborators from the Department of Psychology at UL; the College of Medicine at Florida State University and the Department of Psychology at Humboldt University Berlin.

Research coordinator Dr Páraic Ó Súilleabháin said that the study provides very important insights into the importance of these factors in health and longevity.

“These are clear factors that need to be considered and resulting development of interventions for anyone with cardiovascular disease.”