A German study, the Heinz Nixdorf Recall study (HNR) presented at the European Academy of Neurology (EAN) Virtual Congress found that people who are socially isolated are almost 50% more likely to die from any cause. It was also found that a lack of financial support independently increased the risk of cardiovascular events. .
“We have known for some time that feeling lonely or lacking contact with close friends and family can have an impact on your physical health”, commented Dr. Janine Gronewold. “What this study tells us is that having strong social relationships is of high importance for your heart health and similar to the role of classical protective factors such as having a healthy blood pressure, acceptable cholesterol levels, and a normal weight.”
Professor Jöckel, one of the primary investigators of the HNR added, “This observation is of particular interest in the present discussion on the COVID-19 pandemic, where social contacts are or have been relevantly restricted in most societies.”
During the 13.4 years of follow-up, 339 cardiovascular events such as heart attacks or strokes occurred, and there were 530 deaths among the participants. After adjusting for other factors that might have contributed to these events and deaths, (eg, standard cardiovascular risk factors), a lack of social integration was found to increase the future risk of cardiovascular events by 44% and to increase the risk of death from all causes by 47%, A lack of financial support was associated with a 30% increased risk of cardiovascular events.
The participants (n=4,316, mean age 59.1) entered the study with no known cardiovascular conditions, and they were followed for an average of 13 years. At the start of the study, information was collected on different types of social support, with social integration assessed based on marital status and cohabitation, contact with close friends and family, and membership of political, religious, community, sports, or professional organizations.
“We don’t understand yet why people who are socially isolated have such poor health outcomes, but this is obviously a worrying finding, particularly during these times of prolonged social distancing,” said Dr. Gronewold. “What we do know is that we need to take this seriously, work out how social relationships affect our health, and find effective ways of tackling the problems associated with social isolation to improve our overall health and longevity,” said Hermann.
Rashmi B. Halker Singh, MD, FAHS, FAAN
Katherine T. Hamilton, MD
Britany Klenofsky, MD, and Huma U. Sheikh, MD