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Loneliness and social isolation have negative health consequences and are associated with depression. Personality characteristics are important when studying persons at risk for loneliness and social isolation. The objective of this study was to clarify the association between personality factors, loneliness and social network, taking into account diagnosis of depression, partner status and gender.
Cross-sectional data of an ongoing prospective cohort study, the Netherlands Study of Depression in Older Persons (NESDO), were used.
Setting and participants:
474 participants were recruited from mental health care institutions and general practitioners in five different regions in the Netherlands.
NEO-Five Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI) personality factors and loneliness and social network were measured as well as possible confounders. Multinominal logistic regression analyses were performed to analyse the associations between NEO-FFI factors and loneliness and social network. Interaction terms were investigated for depression, partner status and gender.
Higher neuroticism and lower extraversion in women and lower agreeableness in both men and women were associated with loneliness but not with social network size irrespective of the presence of depression. In the non-depressed group only, lower openness was associated with loneliness. Interaction terms with partner status were not significant.
Personality factors are associated with loneliness especially in women. In men lower agreeableness contributes to higher loneliness. In non-depressed men and women, lower openness is associated with loneliness. Personality factors are not associated with social network size.
Loneliness is highly prevalent among older people, has serious health consequences and is an important predictor of mortality. Loneliness and depression may unfavourably interact with each other over time but data on this topic are scarce.
To determine whether loneliness is associated with excess mortality after 19 years of follow-up and whether the joint effect with depression confers further excess mortality.
Different aspects of loneliness were measured with the De Jong Gierveld scale and depression with the Centre for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale in a cohort of 2878 people aged 55–85 with 19 years of follow-up. Excess mortality hypotheses were tested with Kaplan–Meier and Cox proportional hazard analyses controlling for potential confounders.
At follow-up loneliness and depression were associated with excess mortality in older men and women in bivariate analysis but not in multivariate analysis. In multivariate analysis, severe depression was associated with excess mortality in men who were lonely but not in women.
Loneliness and depression are important predictors of early death in older adults. Severe depression has a strong association with excess mortality in older men who were lonely, indicating a lethal combination in this group.
Loneliness has a significant influence on both physical and mental health. Few studies have investigated the possible associations of loneliness with mortality risk, impact on men and women and whether this impact concerns the situation of being alone (social isolation), experiencing loneliness (feeling lonely) or both. The current study investigated whether social isolation and feelings of loneliness in older men and women were associated with increased mortality risk, controlling for depression and other potentially confounding factors.
In our prospective cohort study of 4004 older persons aged 65–84 years with a 10-year follow-up of mortality data a Cox proportional hazard regression analysis was used to test whether social isolation factors and feelings of loneliness predicted an increased risk of mortality, controlling for psychiatric disorders and medical conditions, cognitive functioning, functional status and sociodemographic factors.
At 10 years follow-up, significantly more men than women with feelings of loneliness at baseline had died. After adjustment for explanatory variables including social isolation, the mortality hazard ratio for feelings of loneliness was 1.30 [95% confidence interval (CI) 1.04–1.63] in men and 1.04 (95% CI 0.90–1.24) in women. No higher risk of mortality was found for social isolation.
Feelings of loneliness rather than social isolation factors were found to be a major risk factor for increasing mortality in older men. Developing a better understanding of the nature of this association may help us to improve quality of life and longevity, especially in older men.
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