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Good Neighbours Could Mitigate the Negative Impact of Living Alone

Saturday, April 1st, 2023

How often do you say hi to your neighbours? Because doing so, might help you – and them -live a little longer. An American study published earlier this year, set out to examine whether neighbourhood dynamics influenced the health of Chinese Americans who lived by themselves.[1]

Everybody Needs Good Neighbours

It is well documented that people who live alone can have poorer health outcomes and an earlier death than people living with others. The research team analysed data from 3154 adults aged 60 years and over, who were enrolled in the Population Study of Chinese Elderly in Chicago. Living arrangements and neighbourhood cohesion – specifically sense of trust and connectedness -were assessed at baseline from 2011 to 2013. Mortality status was tracked through to December 2021.

Living Longer

Contrary to the established belief, living alone by itself was not associated with higher mortality. Instead, the study found that when living alone was combined with low levels of perceived neighbourhood cohesion, only then was it significantly associated with an increased mortality risk. For participants who reported low interaction or connection with their neighbours, living alone had a 48.5 percent increased risk of death compared to those who did not live alone. For participants reporting high levels of perceived neighbourhood cohesion, there was no difference in mortality rates for those who lived alone or with others. No difference was found in the effects between men and women. These findings stood after controlling for several demographic characteristics, physical health, mental health and social engagement factors.

However, there could have been other influencing factors, such as physical activity levels or housing type, that were not controlled for in the study. Also, the study only looked at participants’ perceptions of the neighbourhood and did not have any objective measures of the environment. Moreover, the findings might not be generalisable to other ethnic populations or regions.

Lifesaving Kindness

Nonetheless, the takeaway is heart-warming. Reaching out and being kind to our neighbours, particularly those who live alone, might just add years to their life.