If you have a loved one who is by themselves most of the time and feels lonely and socially isolated, they may be at higher risk of hospitalization or death due to heart failure. The Journal of the American Heart Association (https://www.jaha.ahajournals.org)  published its findings recently and rigorously addressed the link between heart failure patients and feelings of loneliness and social isolation.

“Screening for social isolation during the clinical encounter may provide an opportunity to refer such patients to available resources within and outside of the clinic,” said lead researcher Lila Rutten, an expert in population health and health outcomes at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The study showed that a brief four question survey is effective in ascertaining if a patient faces such risks, which may then lead to appropriate clinical intervention.

Medical researchers have known for a long time that patient’s health is adversely affected by feelings of loneliness or social isolation at all ages. Previous studies have shown sleep disruption for children who are lonely or feel left out, and depression in adolescents and young adults, and a deterioration in cognitive function and dementia for those who are elderly.


Study One of the First to Link Loneliness to Heart Failure


Rutten said that the study is unique since it rigorously examined the link between heart failure patients and those patients who expressed feelings of loneliness or social isolation.  She added that the goal of the study is to “begin to lay the groundwork for understanding how such patients might be better cared for and supported.”  Clinical Psychologist Barry Jacobs said “While I have seen studies that link social isolation to decreased health outcomes, I have not seen any that show so clearly its implications for health care utilization, and consequently costs.”

The study surveyed 2,000 patients in Minnesota who were diagnosed with heart failure between 2013 and 2015. Those individuals (6 percent of those surveyed) who felt lonely or social isolated were 3.5 percent more likely to die within 8 months of experiencing heart failure. Patients who experienced these feelings also were 1.7 times more likely to need hospitalization and 1.6 times more likely to visit the emergency department.

SOURCE: https://www.news.heart.org, “The dangers of a lonely heart”

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