Loneliness and quality of life in chronically ill rural older adults

BACKGROUND: Loneliness is a contributing factor to various health problems in older adults, including complex chronic illness, functional decline, and increased risk of mortality.

OBJECTIVES: A pilot study was conducted to learn more about the prevalence of loneliness in rural older adults with chronic illness and how it affects their quality of life. The purposes of the data analysis reported here were twofold: to describe loneliness, chronic illness diagnoses, chronic illness control measures, prescription medication use, and quality of life in a sample of rural older adults; and to examine the relationships among these elements.

METHODS: A convenience sample of 60 chronically ill older adults who were community dwelling and living in Appalachia was assessed during face-to-face interviews for loneliness and quality of life, using the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Loneliness Scale (version 3) and the CASP-12 quality of life scale. Chronic illness diagnoses, chronic illness control measures, and medication use data were collected through review of participants' electronic medical records.

RESULTS: Overall mean loneliness scores indicated significant loneliness. Participants with a mood disorder such as anxiety or depression had the highest mean loneliness scores, followed by those with lung disease and those with heart disease. Furthermore, participants with mood disorders, lung disease, or heart disease had significantly higher loneliness scores than those without these conditions. Loneliness was significantly related to total number of chronic illnesses and use of benzodiazepines. Use of benzodiazepines, diuretics, nitrates, and bronchodilators were each associated with a lower quality of life.

CONCLUSIONS: Nurses should assess for loneliness as part of their comprehensive assessment of patients with chronic illness. Further research is needed to design and test interventions for loneliness.