Background: Both passive death wishes and loneliness are prevalent in old age and both have been shown to be associated with a variety of detrimental effects. The overall goal of the present study was to evaluate the relationship between loneliness and passive death wishes in the general population of Europeans over the age of 50 years.
Methods: Passive death wishes were evaluated in waves 1 and 2 of the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe, using the question “in the past month, have you felt that you would rather be dead?” Loneliness was evaluated by the question: “how frequently have you felt lonely over the past week?” taken from the Center for Epidemiological Studies of Depression questionnaire. All predictors were gathered in wave 1. Analysis was stratified into three age groups (50–65, 66–75, >75 years).
Results: Both passive death wishes (15.6%) and loneliness (mean (SE) = 1.68(0.03)) were highest in those over the age of 75, relative to the other two age groups (age 50–65: 4.6%, mean (SE) = 1.43(0.01); age 66–75: 7.3%, mean (SE) = 1.50(0.02), respectively). Loneliness remained a significant risk for passive death wishes, net of the effect of demographic, health, mental health, and various social indicators in those aged 50–65 years (OR = 1.47, 95%CI: 1.10–1.97) and 65–75 (OR = 1.74, 95%CI: 1.28–2.38), but not in those over the age of 75 (OR = 1.12, 95%CI: 0.84–1.47). None of the objective social indicators was associated with passive death wishes.
Conclusions: The present study emphasizes the differential role of loneliness across the lifespan. Any intervention to alleviate passive death wishes in the general population will benefit from addressing the subjective sense of loneliness more so than objective indicators of social interaction.