With older Americans at higher risk for social isolation, science may have a treatment
ILLUSTRATIONS BY MAKOTO FUNATSU
by Lynn Darling
“Genomics Researcher Steve Cole had never really thought much about loneliness and the pain it causes until he looked into a molecular microscope at a small sample of white blood cells. What he saw there changed his life.
“The sample was one of several that had been taken from a handful of very lonely men and women, and Cole’s observations were startling: In each of the samples, the blood cells appeared to be in a state of high alert, responding the way they would to a bacterial infection. It was as though the subjects were under mortal assault by a disease — the disease of loneliness.
“But even more surprising to Cole, a professor of medicine, psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the UCLA School of Medicine, was the public reaction to the subsequent study he coauthored, when it was published in 2007.
“‘The impact at the societal level — it really kind of shocked me,’ he says.”