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How much does it hurt to be lonely? Mental and physical differences between older men and women in the KORA-Age Study

Authors

  • A. Zebhauser,

    1. Institute of Epidemiology II, Helmholtz Zentrum München, German Research Center for Environmental Health, Neuherberg, Germany
    2. Department of Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy, Klinikum rechts der Isar, Technische Universität München, Munich, Germany
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  • L. Hofmann-Xu,

    1. Institute of Epidemiology II, Helmholtz Zentrum München, German Research Center for Environmental Health, Neuherberg, Germany
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  • J. Baumert,

    1. Institute of Epidemiology II, Helmholtz Zentrum München, German Research Center for Environmental Health, Neuherberg, Germany
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  • S. Häfner,

    1. Institute of Epidemiology II, Helmholtz Zentrum München, German Research Center for Environmental Health, Neuherberg, Germany
    2. Department of Psychiatry, University Medical Centre, Georg August University Goettingen, Goettingen, Germany
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  • M. E. Lacruz,

    1. Institute of Epidemiology II, Helmholtz Zentrum München, German Research Center for Environmental Health, Neuherberg, Germany
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  • R. T. Emeny,

    1. Institute of Epidemiology II, Helmholtz Zentrum München, German Research Center for Environmental Health, Neuherberg, Germany
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  • A. Döring,

    1. Institute of Epidemiology I, Helmholtz Zentrum München, German Research Center for Environmental Health, Neuherberg, Germany
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  • E. Grill,

    1. Institute of Medical Informatics, Biometry and Epidemiology, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Munich, Germany
    2. Integrated Center for Research and Treatment of Vertigo, Balance and Ocular Motor Disorders (IFBLMU), Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, University Hospital Munich, Munich, Germany
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  • D. Huber,

    1. Department of Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy, Klinikum Harlaching, Munich, Germany
    2. International Psychoanalytic University, Berlin, Germany
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  • A. Peters,

    1. Institute of Epidemiology II, Helmholtz Zentrum München, German Research Center for Environmental Health, Neuherberg, Germany
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  • K. H. Ladwig

    Corresponding author
    1. Institute of Epidemiology II, Helmholtz Zentrum München, German Research Center for Environmental Health, Neuherberg, Germany
    2. Department of Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy, Klinikum rechts der Isar, Technische Universität München, Munich, Germany
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Abstract

Objective

Loneliness has a deep impact on quality of life in older people. Findings on sex-specific differences on the experience of loneliness remain sparse. This study compared the intensity of and factors associated with loneliness between men and women.

Methods

Analyses are based on the 2008/2009 data of the KORA-Age Study, comprising 4127 participants in the age range of 64–94 years. An age-stratified random subsample of 1079 subjects participated in a face-to-face interview. Loneliness was measured by using a short German version of the UCLA-Loneliness-Scale (12 items, Likert scaled, ranging from 0 to 36 points). Multiple logistic regression analysis was conducted to analyze the associations of socio-demographic, physical, and psychological factors with loneliness.

Results

The mean level of loneliness did not significantly differ between men (17.0 ± 4.5) and women (17.5 ± 5.1). However, among the oldest old (≥85 years), loneliness was higher in women (p value = 0.047). Depression, low satisfaction with life, and low resilience were associated significantly with loneliness, which was more pronounced in men. Living alone was not associated with loneliness, whereas lower social network was associated with a three time higher risk for feeling lonely in both men and women.

Conclusions

The extent of loneliness was equally distributed between men and women, although women were more disadvantaged regarding living arrangements as well as physical and mental health. However, loneliness was stronger associated with adverse mental health conditions in men. These findings should be considered when developing intervention strategies to reduce loneliness. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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