Chronic Loneliness Can Make You Sick

At this time of year there is heightened awareness of the needs of others. We donate dollars, coats, toys and gifts, bags of food, or whatever else is needed to help make the holiday season a little less difficult for those facing economic hardship.  But social needs are also important, and when they are neglected due to self-imposed or situational isolation, there is an emotional and physical toll.  A holiday advertisement from the German store chain Edeka has been in the news this week for its powerful imagery of a lonely widower who is only able to bring his children and grandchildren together at Christmas by his (fake) death. Well played, Grandpa.

Sniffle inducing commercials aside, there are scientific links between loneliness and poor health. Studies released this year indicate that loneliness can make you ill and can be detrimental to longevity. Research out of Brigham Young University suggested that social isolation is as much of a risk factor to well-being as obesity, regardless of whether a person prefers solitude or is around others but feels alone. Even for younger people in the sample, little or weak social connection was a mortality risk.

Advancing their research on how loneliness results in changes at the molecular level, a research team including experts from the University of Chicago, UCLA and the California National Primate Research Center at the University of California-Davis, found that perceived social isolation leads to stress signaling, which affects genetic expression and cell production and lessens the body’s resistance to infection and illness.  The cells of lonely individuals contained “conserved transcriptional response to adversity” or CTRA (genes linked to inflammation in previous research). In this study however, loneliness was identified as a predictor of future genetic changes and a related decrease in the effectiveness of the immune system.  The team plans to continue their work on the links between loneliness, disease, and mortality to better understand the health risks and outcomes related to social isolation.




Holt-Lunstad, T. B. Smith, M. Baker, T. Harris, D. Stephenson. Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality: A Meta-Analytic Review. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2015; 10 (2): 227 DOI: 10.1177/1745691614568352

Steven W. Cole, John P. Capitanio, Katie Chun, Jesusa M. G. Arevalo, Jeffrey Ma, John T. Cacioppo. Myeloid differentiation architecture of leukocyte transcriptome dynamics in perceived social isolation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2015; 201514249 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1514249112

Holiday Giving Expectations

Approximately half of American adults intend to donate to a charity this holiday season, including 47 percent of those who are currently unemployed, according to Razoo’s 2012 holiday giving survey. The online survey conducted earlier this month highlights the value families place on philanthropy as 71 percent believe in teaching children the importance of giving at an early age.

A survey from Charity Navigator captures nonprofit expectations of end-of-year giving with over half (51 percent) predicting that it will remain the same as 2011, 32 percent foreseeing an increase in donations, and 6 percent expecting a decline. Nonprofits considered results, familiarity and the fiscal health of the organization to be the top donor concerns when pledging a seasonal gift. Donors agreed that fiscal health and results were key factors in giving decisions, along with the charity’s record of accountability and transparency. What factors do you consider most important when deciding on charitable donations? 

Holiday Advice for Families with Adopted Children

The New York Times blog Well, features a December 31, 2010 post entitled Four Adopted Siblings, Lots of Holiday Stress wherein Dr. Joshua Sparrow offers advice to families with adopted or foster children on how to handle the excitement and stress of the holiday season. His view on the role of prior trauma in shaping responses to a season that is assumed to be one of only happy experiences for children is especially helpful for parents and professionals alike.

American Red Cross Survey: Holiday Charitable Giving Steady in Poor Economy

The spirit of the holiday season is alive and well according to a recent survey on holiday charitable giving. More than three-quarters (78 percent) of respondents claim that helping someone less fortunate than themselves is an integral part of their holiday tradition.

Nearly 60 percent of the people surveyed by the American Red Cross in October of 2010 intend to donate to a charity or charities between Thanksgiving and the dawning of the New Year. Of those respondents, 57 percent report a planned donation of $50 or above, including 31 percent with a planned minimum gift of $100.

What are your giving intentions – up, down or the same as last year?