International Psychogeriatrics

Research Article

Situational versus chronic loneliness as risk factors for all-cause mortality

Sharon Shiovitz-Ezraa1 c1 and Liat Ayalona2

a1 Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

a2 Gabi and Louis Weisfeld School of Social Work, Faculty of Social Sciences, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel

ABSTRACT

Background: Several international studies have substantiated the role of loneliness as a risk factor for mortality. Although both theoretical and empirical research has supported the classification of loneliness as either situational or chronic, research to date has not evaluated whether this classification has a differential impact upon mortality.

Methods: To establish the definition of situational vs. chronic loneliness, we used three waves of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a nationally representative sample of Americans over the age of 50 years. Baseline data for the present study were collected in the years 1996, 1998, and 2000. The present study concerns the 7,638 individuals who completed all three waves; their loneliness was classified as either not lonely, situational loneliness or chronic loneliness. Mortality data were available through to the year 2004.

Results: Those identified as “situationally lonely” (HR = 1.56; 95% CI: 1.52–1.62) as well as those identified as “chronically lonely” (HR = 1.83; 95% CI: 1.71–1.87) had a greater risk for all cause mortality net of the effect of possible demographic and health confounders. Nonetheless, relative to those classified as “situationally lonely,” individuals classified as “chronically lonely” had a slightly greater mortality risk.

Conclusions: The current study emphasizes the important role loneliness plays in older adults’ health. The study further supports current division into situational vs. chronic loneliness, yet suggests that both types serve as substantial mortality risks.

(Received August 10 2009)

(Revised September 29 2009)

(Revised October 06 2009)

(Accepted October 08 2009)

(Online publication December 15 2009)

Correspondence:

c1 Correspondence should be addressed to: Sharon Shiovitz-Ezra, PhD, Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Mount Scopus 91905-IL, Jerusalem, Israel. Phone: +972-25882201; Fax: +972-25823587. Email: sharonshi@mscc.huji.ac.il.