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      Mortality risk associated with combinations of loneliness and social isolation. Findings from The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA)


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          Social distancing and similar measures in response to the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic have greatly increased loneliness and social isolation among older adults. Understanding the association between loneliness and mortality is therefore critically important. We examined whether combinations of loneliness and social isolation, using a metric named social asymmetry, was associated with increased mortality risk.


          The sample was derived from participants in The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing, a nationally representative sample of community-dwelling older adults aged ≥50. Survey data were linked to official death registration records. Cox proportional hazards regressions and competing risk survival analyses were used to examine the association between social asymmetry and all-cause and cause-specific mortality.


          Of four social asymmetry groups, concordant low lonely (low loneliness, low isolation) included 35.5% of participants; 26.4% were concordant high lonely (high loneliness, high isolation); 19.2% were discordant robust (low loneliness, high isolation) and 18.9% discordant susceptible (high loneliness, low isolation). The concordant high lonely (hazard ratio [HR] = 1.43, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.09–1.87) and discordant robust (HR = 1.37, 95% CI: 1.04–1.81) groups had an increased mortality risk compared to those in the concordant low lonely group. The concordant high lonely group had an increased risk of mortality due to diseases of the circulatory system (sub-distribution hazard ratio = 1.52, 95% CI: 1.03–2.25).


          We found that social asymmetry predicted mortality over a 7-year follow-up period. Our results confirm that a mismatch between subjective loneliness and objective social isolation, as well as the combination of loneliness and social isolation, were associated with an increased all-cause mortality risk.

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          Most cited references28

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          Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality: a meta-analytic review.

          Actual and perceived social isolation are both associated with increased risk for early mortality. In this meta-analytic review, our objective is to establish the overall and relative magnitude of social isolation and loneliness and to examine possible moderators. We conducted a literature search of studies (January 1980 to February 2014) using MEDLINE, CINAHL, PsycINFO, Social Work Abstracts, and Google Scholar. The included studies provided quantitative data on mortality as affected by loneliness, social isolation, or living alone. Across studies in which several possible confounds were statistically controlled for, the weighted average effect sizes were as follows: social isolation odds ratio (OR) = 1.29, loneliness OR = 1.26, and living alone OR = 1.32, corresponding to an average of 29%, 26%, and 32% increased likelihood of mortality, respectively. We found no differences between measures of objective and subjective social isolation. Results remain consistent across gender, length of follow-up, and world region, but initial health status has an influence on the findings. Results also differ across participant age, with social deficits being more predictive of death in samples with an average age younger than 65 years. Overall, the influence of both objective and subjective social isolation on risk for mortality is comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality.
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            UCLA Loneliness Scale (Version 3): reliability, validity, and factor structure.

            D. Russell (1996)
            In this article I evaluated the psychometric properties of the UCLA Loneliness Scale (Version 3). Using data from prior studies of college students, nurses, teachers, and the elderly, analyses of the reliability, validity, and factor structure of this new version of the UCLA Loneliness Scale were conducted. Results indicated that the measure was highly reliable, both in terms of internal consistency (coefficient alpha ranging from .89 to .94) and test-retest reliability over a 1-year period (r = .73). Convergent validity for the scale was indicated by significant correlations with other measures of loneliness. Construct validity was supported by significant relations with measures of the adequacy of the individual's interpersonal relationships, and by correlations between loneliness and measures of health and well-being. Confirmatory factor analyses indicated that a model incorporating a global bipolar loneliness factor along with two method factor reflecting direction of item wording provided a very good fit to the data across samples. Implications of these results for future measurement research on loneliness are discussed.
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              Social isolation, loneliness, and all-cause mortality in older men and women

              Both social isolation and loneliness are associated with increased mortality, but it is uncertain whether their effects are independent or whether loneliness represents the emotional pathway through which social isolation impairs health. We therefore assessed the extent to which the association between social isolation and mortality is mediated by loneliness. We assessed social isolation in terms of contact with family and friends and participation in civic organizations in 6,500 men and women aged 52 and older who took part in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing in 2004-2005. A standard questionnaire measure of loneliness was administered also. We monitored all-cause mortality up to March 2012 (mean follow-up 7.25 y) and analyzed results using Cox proportional hazards regression. We found that mortality was higher among more socially isolated and more lonely participants. However, after adjusting statistically for demographic factors and baseline health, social isolation remained significantly associated with mortality (hazard ratio 1.26, 95% confidence interval, 1.08-1.48 for the top quintile of isolation), but loneliness did not (hazard ratio 0.92, 95% confidence interval, 0.78-1.09). The association of social isolation with mortality was unchanged when loneliness was included in the model. Both social isolation and loneliness were associated with increased mortality. However, the effect of loneliness was not independent of demographic characteristics or health problems and did not contribute to the risk associated with social isolation. Although both isolation and loneliness impair quality of life and well-being, efforts to reduce isolation are likely to be more relevant to mortality.

                Author and article information

                Age Ageing
                Age Ageing
                Age and Ageing
                Oxford University Press
                11 February 2021
                The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) , Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
                Centre for Health Policy and Management , Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
                Centre for Health Policy and Management , Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
                The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) , Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
                Department of Medical Gerontology , Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
                The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) , Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
                The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) , Whitaker Square Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, Dublin, Ireland
                Author notes
                Address correspondence to: Dr Mark Ward. Tel: +353 1 896 3194. Email: wardm8@ 123456tcd.ie
                © The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the British Geriatrics Society. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com

                This article is made available via the PMC Open Access Subset for unrestricted re-use and analyses in any form or by any means with acknowledgement of the original source. These permissions are granted for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic or until permissions are revoked in writing. Upon expiration of these permissions, PMC is granted a perpetual license to make this article available via PMC and Europe PMC, consistent with existing copyright protections.

                This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model ( https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/open_access/funder_policies/chorus/standard_publication_model)

                Page count
                Pages: 7
                Funded by: Shire plc, DOI 10.13039/100007343;
                Funded by: Atlantic Philanthropies, DOI 10.13039/100004426;
                Funded by: Health Research Board, DOI 10.13039/100010414;
                Award ID: ILP-PHR-2017-022
                Research Paper
                Custom metadata

                Geriatric medicine
                mortality,loneliness,social isolation,social asymmetry,ageing,older people
                Geriatric medicine
                mortality, loneliness, social isolation, social asymmetry, ageing, older people


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