Loneliness, Health, and Longevity

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Abstract

Background.

Objective measures of loneliness and poor social contacts are associated with negative health outcomes. However, the influence of subjective loneliness among elderly persons is poorly documented. We hypothesized that loneliness among persons aged 70–90 years is associated with subsequent decline in health, function, and longevity.

Methods.

Mortality data for subjects aged 70–90 years were obtained; subjective loneliness, health, comorbidity, depression, and functional status were assessed through the Jerusalem Longitudinal Cohort Study (1990–2010), a prospective longitudinal study. A representative sample of 407, 661, and 1,113 participants born 1920–1921 were assessed at home at ages 70, 78, and 85, respectively. Participants were asked how often they felt lonely, with answers dichotomized to never versus rarely/often/very often. In the age group of 70, 78, and 85, we excluded 67, 141, and 408 depressed participants from the study sample, which, thus, comprised 340, 520, and 705 participants, respectively.

Results.

At age 70, 78, and 85, prevalence of loneliness was 27.9% (n = 95), 23.8% (n = 124), and 24% (n = 169), respectively. The only factor consistently associated at all ages with increased likelihood of loneliness was not being married. After adjusting for baseline variables, we found no association between loneliness and subsequent deterioration 7 years later in functional status, mood, cognition, chronic pain, or rising comorbidity between ages 70 and 78 or 78 and 85. Loneliness was not associated with mortality among the participants aged 70–78, 78–85, and 85–90. We repeated all data analysis, without excluding depressed participants, without any change in overall findings.

Conclusions.

Our findings do not support the hypothesis that subjective loneliness is associated with increased morbidity or mortality from age 70 to 90.

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