The Effect of Cognitive Impairment on Loneliness in Older Adulthood: Evidence From HRS 2008-2018

TitleThe Effect of Cognitive Impairment on Loneliness in Older Adulthood: Evidence From HRS 2008-2018
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsLee, JHyun, Luchetti, M, Sutin, AR, Terracciano, A
JournalInnovation in Aging
ISBN Number2399-5300
Keywordscognitive impairment, Loneliness

Background: People experience loneliness when there is a mismatch between desired and actual social interaction. Demographic and health factors have been implicated in loneliness; less is known about the unique association of cognitive impairment on loneliness in older adulthood. Purpose: This study examined the link between cognitive impairment status and level and change in loneliness over a 9-year period and whether it is independent of physical health, depression, and social isolation. We examine the associations for overall and the emotional and social loneliness sub-domains of loneliness. Methods: Data were from the Health and Retirement Study 2008-2018 waves (N = 8,269, age 50+). Cognitive impairment status was categorized using mTICS. Loneliness was measured with 11-item UCLA Loneliness scale. Multilevel modeling was used to analyze the effects of cognitive status on loneliness, controlling for time-varying functional limitation, disease burden, social contact, and depression. Results: Cognitive impairment not dementia (CIND) was associated with higher loneliness (b = .04, p < .001). CIND (b = .03, p = .036) and dementia (b = .09, p = .017) were linked to higher emotional loneliness but were not independent of social isolation and depression. Those with CIND had higher social loneliness (b = .04, p = .016), even after adjusting for covariates. The trajectory of loneliness did not vary by cognitive status. Conclusions: Cognitive impairment is a risk factor for loneliness among older adults. Those with mild cognitive impairment experienced heightened loneliness, especially for social belongingness. Cognitive function should be considered in designing interventions for loneliness.

Citation Key11314