New Study: Lonely Older Adults More Likely To Develop This Disease

A research of older adults finds that people who are lonely are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. In the study, the researchers conducted a longitudinal observational population study with data on 4,112 diabetes-free (mean age 65.02 ± 9.05) participants from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing and found that a total of 264 (6.42 percent) participants developed type 2 diabetes over the follow-up period.

The study, published in the journal Diabetologia, noted that loneliness was a significant predictor of incident type 2 diabetes independent of age, sex, ethnicity, wealth, smoking status, physical activity, alcohol consumption, Body Mass Index, Glycated hemoglobin, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

Further analyses detected an association between loneliness and type 2 diabetes onset independent of depressive symptoms, living alone and social isolation.

The researchers, led by Ruth A. Hackett, said loneliness is a negative emotion that occurs when an individual perceives that their social needs are not being met.

“It reflects an imbalance between desired and actual social relationships. Survey data suggest that loneliness is a common experience, with a fifth of adults in the UK and a third of adults in the USA reporting feeling lonely sometimes,”

Hackett said.

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According to them, the study is the first to examine the association of loneliness with later type 2 diabetes incidence.

“Our findings show that loneliness is a robust predictor of type 2 diabetes incidence over 12 years of follow-up independent of a range of covariates, including sociodemographic factors, health behaviours and cardiometabolic comorbidities.

“This association was upheld when depressive symptoms were taken into account. We also assessed loneliness, social isolation and living alone simultaneously as predictors of type 2 diabetes incidence. In this analysis, loneliness remained an independent predictor of later type 2 diabetes. No significant associations for social isolation or living alone were observed,”

Hackett added.

Continuing, she said no previous study has prospectively associated loneliness with incident type 2 diabetes, although this relationship has been assessed cross-sectionally.

“One analysis of 8,593 older people living in Denmark found that loneliness was associated with diabetes in women only. However, a larger cohort of over 20,000 Swiss nationals observed an association between loneliness and diabetes in both male and female participants.

“Cross-sectional analyses cannot determine whether loneliness stimulates type 2 diabetes onset, or whether loneliness is an emotional manifestation of the strain of diabetes diagnosis on close social relationships.

“Our prospective results therefore add to the literature in establishing that loneliness is a predictor of type 2 diabetes incidence, independent of baseline HbA1c. Given the observational nature of this study, causality cannot be inferred.

“Our sensitivity analysis excluding cases of type 2 diabetes reported within 2 years of baseline aimed to address the risk of reverse causality. The observation that the association between loneliness and incident type 2 diabetes remained after these more immediate cases were excluded adds weight to the temporal sequence,”

they noted.

Hackett, however, added that further work is required to understand the potential causal nature of this relationship, as well as underlying mechanisms.

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“There has been increasing interest in designing interventions to alleviate loneliness, with the most promising results detected for studies addressing maladaptive social cognitions, particularly through the use of cognitive behavioural therapy.

“In line with our results, prevention strategies should focus on the quality rather than the quantity of social relationships, as increasing social contact is unlikely to alleviate feelings of loneliness. It remains to be discovered whether these types of interventions or policies to address loneliness in older people could help prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes,”

the researcher stated.

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