Living with Loneliness and Chronic Illness in Appalachia

Tuesday, 19 November 2013: 8:30 AM

Laurie Ann Theeke, PhD, MSN, BSN
Morgantown Department, School of Nursing, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV

Learning Objective 1: To understand the intense negative emotions associated with experiencing loneliness for older adults with chronic illness in rural underserved populations.

Learning Objective 2: To understand the relationship between functional status and chronic loneliness for older adults with complex chronic illness.

Aim. To develop enhanced understanding of the emotional meaning of loneliness for older adults living with chronic illness in Appalachia.

Background. Loneliness is recognized as a significant psychosocial stressor for older adults globally, eliciting a physiological stress response that has been linked to multiple chronic illnesses. Recent literature has reported that loneliness is predictive of functional decline and mortality in older adults.

Method. This project used a qualitative phenomenological design and was conducted in Northern West Virginia. Participants were included who had a score of 40 or greater on the UCLA Loneliness Scale, were community dwelling, had a diagnosis of at least one chronic illness, and were able to participate fully in the 2-3 hour loosely structured interviews. Redundancy was reached after 14 participants were interviewed. Interviews were audio taped, transcribed verbatim and analyzed in two ways; thematically by independent reviewers and with Pennebaker linguistic word use analysis (LIWC) to identify emotive words associated with loneliness.

Findings. Negative emotional themes of anger at self and others, fear and embarrassment, anxiety, and sadness and depression were explicated from the interview data. Nine of the fourteen participants described the contribution of functional decline to the development of loneliness.

Conclusion. Interventions could be developed that target the negative emotions associated with loneliness. The relationship between loneliness and functional status may be cyclical and interventions that break this cycle would have the potential to impact the negative sequelae associated with loneliness and functional loss.