The Experience of Older Women Living with Loneliness and Chronic Conditions in Appalachia

This phenomenological qualitative study explored the experience of living with loneliness and multiple chronic conditions for rural older women in Appalachia. The study took place in 2012 in Northern West Virginia. Participants were 14 older women who were chronically ill, community dwelling, and lonely (Score of 40 or higher on the Revised 20-item UCLA Loneliness Scale). Thematic content analysis revealed four categories that contained thirteen themes: (a) negative emotions of loneliness, which included themes of sadness, disconnection, fear, anger, and worry; (b) positive emotions when not lonely, which included themes of joy with others and pride in self; (c) loss of independence and loneliness, which included themes of functional decline contributes to loneliness, burden, and gratitude for help; and (d) ways of managing loneliness, which included remembering holidays and happier moments, staying busy, and getting out. The study contributes new knowledge about the experience of anger, fear, and worry when lonely. These emotions have not extensively been identified as significant to loneliness. Future studies exploring the links between loneliness and anger, fear, worry, and negative physical health outcomes could enhance knowledge of mechanisms by which loneliness contributes to health decline. Additionally, knowing that positive emotions such as joy are described as being linked to less lonely times could inform future work that aims to diminish loneliness and enhance positive emotional states. Finally, understanding that functional impairment is described as contributing to loneliness in this population reinforces the need to assess for and address functional limitations.