white senior caregiver looks directly into the camera. Seated at her dining room table at home. Social isolation impacts many unpaid care workers.

Every day it seems scientists discover more ways in which loneliness can attack our bodies and shorten our lives.

The Research is alarming, but for most of us, it is also confusing. How do scientists take a ubiquitous, enduring and universal feeling and turn it into a set of scary statistics? How can an abstract emotion shorten a life? How do we even define a word that provokes so many meanings in so many different circumstances?

You put someone who is lonely into a room alone and every person who comes there will be perceived as a threat.” Lonely people, she continues, often misread a facial expression or tone of voice — characterizing curiosity as hostility, for instance — and gradually develop a distorted reality about the social world around them. That unconscious sense of threat can lead to an endless behavioral cycle in which a lonely person, in a mistaken attempt at self-protection, sends out signals of disinterest or even hostility, which then causes others to withdraw.

Read more on AARP.

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