Mental Health of Elders in Retirement Communities: Is Loneliness a Key Factor?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011: 11:10 AM

Abir K. Bekhet, PhD, RN, HSMI
College of Nursing, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI
Jaclene A. Zauszniewski, PhD, RN-BC, FAAN
Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH

Learning Objective 1: Identify the consequences of loneliness in older adults who are residing in retirement communities.

Learning Objective 2: Discuss the association between loneliness, depression, anxiety, resourcefulness among males and females older adults and acknowledge the necessity of developing loneliness intervention programs.

Background and significance: The prevalence of loneliness in older adults is estimated to be 40%.  Loneliness is manifested by intense feelings of emptiness and abandonment and can lead to depression and suicide.  

Purpose: The purpose of this secondary analysis was to describe the frequency of occurrence of loneliness among elders who relocated to retirement communities (RCs) and to determine whether elderly men differ from elderly women in reporting loneliness.  We also investigated whether lonely elders differed from non-lonely elders on resourcefulness skills, perceived health, chronic conditions, and functional status Theoretical framework: The “Model of Depression and Loneliness” proposes that there are four types of barriers that influence loneliness, which, in turn, will affect depression.

Methods:  A descriptive, comparative, and correlational design was used to examine hypothesized relationships among the study variables using psychometrically sound measures. The sample consisted of 314 residents who were recruited from 29 RCs in Northeast OH.

Results: indicated that 30% of the women and 25% of the men reported feeling lonely.  Lonely elders exhibited more anxiety (t (1,312) = -3.93, p < .001), more depressive symptoms (t (1,312) = -5.19, p < .001), and less resourcefulness (t (1,312) = 2.10, p = .04) than non-lonely elders.  Similarly, lonely women were more anxious (t (1,248) = -3.59, p < .001), had more depressive symptoms (t (1,248) = -5.06, p < .001), and less resourcefulness (t (1,248) = 2.05, p = .04) than non-lonely women.  No significant differences were found between those who reported loneliness and those who reported no loneliness on the measure of perceived overall health, functional status, and chronic conditions. 

Conclusion: The findings provide evidence of the impact of loneliness in retirement communities on mental health outcomes and recommendations for developing loneliness intervention programs such as cognitive therapy, teaching adaptive coping strategies, and modifying interpersonal orientation.