Loneliness predicted functional decline in elderly

Loneliness predicted functional decline and death in people older than 60 years, according to study results.

From 2002 to 2008, researchers evaluated 1,604 participants from the Health and Retirement Study. Participants answered a three item loneliness questionnaire that measured whether they felt left out, felt isolated or lacked companionship.

Overall, 43% of elderly patients reported feeling lonely. Loneliness was associated with an increased risk of death over the 6-year follow-up (22.8% vs. 14.2%). Loneliness also was associated with functional decline. Participants who reported being lonely were more likely to experience a decline in activities of daily living (24.8% vs. 12.5%), develop difficulties with upper extremity tasks (41.5% vs. 28.3%) and difficulty in stair climbing (40.8% vs. 27.9%).

In an accompanying commentary, Emily M. Bucholz, MPH, a MD/PhD student in the department of chronic disease epidemiology, and Harlan M. Krumholz, MD, SM, department of medicine, sections of cardiovascular medicine and health policy and administration, and center for outcome research and evaluation, both at the Yale University School of Medicine and Yale School of Public Health, wrote, “Loneliness is a negative feeling that would be worth addressing even if the condition had no health implications. Nevertheless, with regard to health implications, scientists examining social support should build on studies such as those published in this issue [of Archives of Internal Medicine] and be challenged to investigate mechanisms as well as practical interventions that can be used to address the social factors that undermine health.”


Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures. Dr. Bucholz reports no relevant financial disclosures. Dr. Krumholz chairs a cardiac scientific advisory board for UnitedHealth and is the recipient of a research grant from Medtronic through Yale University.

For more information:

Bucholz EM. Arch Intern Med. 2012;doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2012.2649.

Perissinotto CM. Arch Intern Med. 2012;doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2012.1993.

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