Loneliness the unpleasant feeling of emptiness or desolation can creep in and cause suffering to people at any age. But it can be especially debilitating to older adults and may predict serious health problems and even death, according to a new study by UCSF researchers.
The team analyzed data in the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative study by the National Institute on Aging conducted on 1,604 older adults between 2002 and 2008. The research, published today in the Archives of Internal Medicine, focused specifically on the question of loneliness and its impact.
"In our typical medical model, we don't think of subjective feelings as affecting health," said first author Carla Perissinotto, MD, MHS, assistant professor in the UCSF Division of Geriatrics. "It's intriguing to find that loneliness is independently associated with an increased rate of death and functional decline."
Lonely Without Being Alone
One of the more surprising findings of the team's analysis is that loneliness does not necessarily correlate with living alone. The study found 43 percent of surveyed older adults felt lonely, yet only 18 percent lived alone.
"We are interested in identifying the different factors that cause adults to become functionally impaired and ultimately at risk for nursing home admission," Perissinotto said. "The aging of our population and the greater odds of institutionalization make it important for us to think about all the factors that are putting elders in danger, including social and environmental risks."
Researchers at UCSF focused on death and a decrease in the ability to perform daily activities such as upper extremity tasks, climbing stairs, and walking.
People who identified themselves as lonely had an adjusted risk ratio of 1.59 or a statistically significant 59 percent greater risk of decline. For death, the hazard ratio was 1.45 or 45 percent greater risk of death.
|Contact: Leland Kim|
University of California - San Francisco