Loneliness and the health of older people

Authors

  • Conor Ó Luanaigh,

    Corresponding author
    1. Mercer's Institute for Research in Ageing, St. James's Hospital, Dublin 8, Ireland
    • Mercer's Institute for Research in Ageing, St. James's Hospital, Dublin 8, Ireland.
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    • Research Fellow in Old Age Psychiatry.

  • Brian A. Lawlor

    1. Mercer's Institute for Research in Ageing, St. James's Hospital, Dublin 8, Ireland
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    • Consultant Old Age Psychiatrist.


Abstract

Background

The intense focus on major psychiatric disorders in both contemporary psychiatric research and clinical practice has resulted in the relative neglect of less definable constructs such as loneliness and how such entities might impact on health outcomes. The purpose of this review is to raise awareness among physicians and psychiatrists of the medical impact and biological effects of loneliness as well as making the argument that loneliness should be a legitimate therepeutic target.

Methods

Using Pubmed we searched the literature for research and review papers looking at loneliness as a construct, how it is measured and its health effects. We reviewed the relevant papers and have summarized their main findings.

Results

Loneliness has strong associations with depression and may in fact be an independent risk factor for depression. Furthermore loneliness appears to have a significant impact on physical health being linked detrimentally to higher blood pressure, worse sleep, immune stress responses and worse cognition over time in the elderly. There is a relative deficiency in adequate evidence based treatments for loneliness.

Conclusion

Loneliness is common in older people an is associated with adverse health consequences both from a mental and physical health point of view. There needs to be an increased focus on initiating intervention strategies targeting loneliness to determine if decreasing loneliness can improve quality of life and functioning in the elderly. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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