Loneliness, a Major Driver of Aging


You are older or younger than your real age.

Though everyone on Earth has their chronological age depending on their birth date, there is also what is called biological age that is affected by various factors like lifestyle, disease or genetics. Increased biological age influences the likelihood of different illnesses and eventually, death.

Based on new studies, increased aging has been observed in people who feel lonely, unhappy or hopeless. Some researchers have suggested that a person’s biological age is increased more through loneliness than smoking.

This discovery shows how mental health could become a new focus for anti-aging therapy, and not just physical health. Over the past decade, scientists have developed means to detect accelerated aging, called “aging clocks.” The study examined blood and biometric data from around 12,000 Chinese individuals using a deep-learning aging clock. The study’s authors, led by the biotechnology firm Deep Longevity, expressed surprise at the extent to which psychological factors, as opposed to well-established physical factors like a smoking habit, could affect aging.

Cholesterol and glucose levels (amongst 16 blood markers), biometric parameters, and sex were used in combination to predict the age.

The team made a comparison between people’s chronological age (date of birth) with their biological age. Individuals that suffered with health conditions like a stroke, lung conditions, liver disease and other age-related diseases were found to be older than their healthier counterparts.

The study also showed how psychological factors could add up to an estimated 1.65 years to a person’s biological age.

What is an aging clock?

This is a statistical model that gives an estimate of the biological age instead of an age based on date of birth. According to Fedor Galkin, Lead Scientist at Deep Longevity, an aging clock can estimate an individual’s age by identifying biomarkers that are associated with chronological age.

Aging clocks can predict the level of damage of a person’s organs and can be used clinically to explore therapies for different persons and communities.

According to a study author, Manuel Faroa, despite being among the most reliable determinants of the quality of life and health, psychological states are frequently ignored in current healthcare.

The team also reported how smokers were more likely to be older than their non-smoking counterparts.

Loneliness, for example, has been found to increase the likelihood of cardiovascular diseases. The pandemic also caused an elevated state of loneliness amongst many young people (<25), low-income earners, women and older people. Deep Longevity has released an online mental health tool named FuturSelf.AI, based on research conducted in digital psychology. The Artificial Intelligence gives processed psychological assessment for free and also provides a report on the well-being of the patient mentally.

According to Dr. Stella Panos, a neuropsychologist, “The other possibility would be the other way around. For [many] patients who have neurological or other chronic illnesses, there are high rates of depression, anxiety, and those types of mental health issues. We used to think it’s a response to the condition, like a situational response, but there’s actually a lot of research to suggest that there’s a biological component. For example, when people have a head injury one of the most common factors is depression. And they’ve seen this in various studies where they’ve shown there’s more likely a biological component to it as well.”

People will continue to grow old but it will not happen in the same manner. The soul and the body are connected, hence, a person’s physical health is affected by their medical history, psychological state and genetics. It is therefore important that mental health is integrated in the holistic care of people. It is not only about what a person is treated for clinically at the hospital, but also the state of the person’s mind. Hence, medical health professionals ought to be on the lookout for mental health changes in their patients and create a platform where they are comfortable to discuss what is on their minds, which would eventually improve their overall health.