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A look at isolation in life and its negative effects

Received 2017 Jan 3; Accepted 2017 Jan 24. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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This article has been cited by other articles in PMC. Abstract Perceived social isolation PSI is a deficit in normal human social interaction, which has been associated with negative health outcomes.

However, the precise mechanisms through which PSI influences human health are not fully known. This review aims at bringing out what is known about these pathways through which social isolation affects human health.

The keywords used were perceived social isolation, loneliness, health outcomes, cardiovascular effects, neuroendocrine effects, depression, and cognitive decline, in animal and human populations. There are clear linkages between PSI and the cardiovascular system, neuroendocrine system, and cognitive functioning. PSI also leads to depression, cognitive decline, and sleep problems. The mechanisms through which PSI causes these effects are neural, hormonal, genetic, emotional, and behavioral.

The effects of PSI on health are both direct and indirect. There is a complex interconnected network of pathways through which PSI negatively influences health.

Social isolation

These hypothetical pathways using which the effects of PSI have been explained form the base on which further analyses can be carried out. Humans are a social species and so thrive on a wide variety of social interactions and networks. The occurrence of deficits in these relationships affords researchers the opportunity to measure and evaluate how significant social interactions are to human health and fitness.

An understanding of the importance of social interactions to human functioning also leads to the question of what happens when these interactions or relationships are not present or functional.

Various factors account for why an individual becomes socially isolated. When the individual develops the subjective feeling of being isolated, what happens to the health of the individual? This question has been a central concern for research in health. It also brings to the fore a number of animal studies that have tried to elucidate the health effects of loneliness.

These studies have shown how significantly social isolation can affect the health of mammals. Even though taking an animal out of its social group and making it exist alone cannot be compared adequately to the pain of human PSI, it nevertheless suggests how dramatic and significant the effect of absent or inadequate social interaction can be.

These animal models have been of great value in helping researchers understand the pathways through which social isolation affects the human body and health.

  • This review aims at bringing out what is known about these pathways through which social isolation affects human health;
  • During the early childhood developmental years, the need to fit in and be accepted is paramount.

In addition to adults, children and adolescents have also been shown to be susceptible to the negative effects of social isolation.

The risks associated with social loneliness are therefore obvious. However, the mechanisms through which these risks occur, and the complexities associated with these negative health outcomes, cannot be captured with a mere measure of prevalence or statistical association. It is then necessary to determine whether there are actual pathological linkages between the social concept of loneliness and human physiology rather than just mere statistical findings.

  1. Affordable independent-living and assisted-living options are also important as social policy to reduce isolation and its negative health consequences.
  2. For the older person living alone, an independent-living or assisted-living apartment also provides opportunities for new relationships, for shared meals, for group activities.
  3. This then becomes the focus of this review.

This then becomes the focus of this review: Methods To access the most relevant content, studies containing the following keywords were sought: PSI, loneliness, health outcomes, cardiovascular effects, neuroendocrine effects, depression, and cognitive decline, in varying animal and human populations. The following abbreviations were used: Data sources We used the following sources: We also extrapolated from the references from each primary source and searched for additional relevant journal articles.

We focused on articles written in or translated into English. A full online search was also conducted using Google Scholar, and where necessary, authors were contacted. Eligibility criteria We incorporated articles that provided precise data on PSI and its association with varying health outcomes. We did not use the size of subject populations, the type of study design, or the specific outcomes of the studies to screen any research.

What are the effects of isolation in the mind?

We included studies in which PSI or social isolation was the focus and outcomes were defined as physiological or physical, emotional, cognitive, genetic, cardiovascular, neuroendocrine, and psychological. The selected journal titles and abstracts were screened by the authors, and those that did not fit the inclusion criteria, or in which there was no consensus between the authors, were discarded. The exaggerated stress response may put extra load on the heart and systemic vasculature, contributing in a great way to organ damage.

These evidences support the hypothesis that social isolation contributes to CVD morbidity and mortality.

  • One cannot maximize the network but it can be optimized;
  • There are some cases when not even seeing the sun long enough each day will affect them; by the time they try to go out and play, heart attacks and heat strokes are more common;
  • Social isolation and loneliness are precipitated by a number of factors, including living alone, health problems and disability, and sensory impairment such as hearing loss;
  • These evidences support the hypothesis that social isolation contributes to CVD morbidity and mortality.

This result was independent of the influence of stressful life events, as that did not have any impact on the findings. It is important to note that loneliness in this case was self-reported, a parameter that was used to segregate the inpatients into either high or low groups based on self-reported scores.

In this study, the time the students spent alone did not have any influence on the outcome. Besides the influence of loneliness on glucocorticoids levels, research has also gone further to investigate its association with glucocorticoid resistance. Genetic effects of PSI The genetic effects of social isolation has been revealed through genome microarray analyses which have pointed out the following genetic responses: These results were recorded in a sample of more than 19,000 individuals older than 14 years.

In addition, there is an impairment of executive control in older adults as a result of reduced support. PSI is associated with effects on the cardiovascular, neuroendocrine, and central nervous systems as well as genetic mechanisms and mental health. These reactions have been compared with human bodily responses to physical and psychological pain with particular reference to the utilization of the same neurological substrates to mediate these responses [ 47 ].

Going further, research has suggested that there is a link between cardiovascular health and cognitive function with respect to the effects of PSI. Particularly, White, et al. These effects lead to overall deficits in neural integrity and cognitive functioning.