Sociodemographic and Health-Related Risks for Loneliness and Outcome Differences

TitleSociodemographic and Health-Related Risks for Loneliness and Outcome Differences
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsTheeke, LA
Academic DepartmentNursing
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy
Date Published2007
UniversityWest Virginia University
CityMorgantown, WV
KeywordsDemographics, Health Conditions and Status

Background. Loneliness is a prevalent problem for older adults and has been shown to be associated with negative physical, psychological, and social variables. There has been limited research focusing on the relationship of loneliness to health. There is a gap in the literature when it comes to understanding how the problem of loneliness relates to the health of older adults in the United States. Purpose. The purpose of this study was to address this gap in the literature through the testing of two models, the first model represented the postulated risks for loneliness and the second model represented the postulated outcomes for those who experience loneliness. Variables were chosen for inclusion in the models based on a review of pertinent quantitative and qualitative literature. Methods. The models were tested using a representative sample of U.S. older adults. Data analysis was performed using data from the 2002 and 2004 waves of the Health and Retirement Study. The sample was limited to respondents aged 50 and older who participated in wave 6 (2002) and wave 7 (2004) without proxy, answered the lonely question at both waves, were community-dwelling in 2002 and who had complete data on selected variables in the model. Univariate and bivariate analyses were followed by logistic regression analysis to identify risks. One-way ANOVAs, comparative means testing and independent analysis of covariance tests were used to evaluate the difference in outcomes for those who were never lonely, briefly lonely, or chronically lonely. Results. Non-married status was consistently the primary predictor of self-report of loneliness, followed by poorer self-report of health status, lower educational level, functional impairment, increasing number of chronic illnesses, younger age, lower income, and less people living in the household. Gender and use of home care were not significant predictors of loneliness. Those who were chronically lonely reported less exercise, more tobacco use, less alcohol use, a greater increase in number of chronic illnesses, higher depression scores, more physician contacts and greater average number of nights in a nursing home than those who were never lonely or briefly lonely. After controlling for significant covariates of loneliness, those who were chronically lonely did not have significantly more physician contacts. Discussion. Loneliness is a prevalent problem for older adults in the United States with its own unique health-related risks and outcomes. Given the prevalence, it should be considered a healthcare priority in the United States. Based on the results of this study, inclusion of loneliness and loneliness risk screening as part of routine health histories for those aged 50 and over should be considered. Future research needs to focus on evaluating the effectiveness of both prevention and treatment interventions for loneliness to provide empirical data to guide evidenced based practice.

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