The discrepancy between social isolation and loneliness as a clinically meaningful metric: findings from the Irish and English longitudinal studies of ageing (TILDA and ELSA)

Type:
Publication

McHugh JE, Kenny RA, Lawlor BA, Steptoe A, Kee F.

Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2016 Jun 1. doi: 10.1002/gps.4509. 

OBJECTIVE:

Scant evidence is available on the discordance between loneliness and social isolation among older adults. We aimed to investigate this discordance and any health implications that it may have.

METHOD:

Using nationally representative datasets from ageing cohorts in Ireland (TILDA) and England (ELSA), we created a metric of discordance between loneliness and social isolation, to which we refer as Social Asymmetry. This metric was the categorised difference between standardised scores on a scale of loneliness and a scale of social isolation, giving categories of: Concordantly Lonely and Isolated, Discordant: Robust to Loneliness, or Discordant: Susceptible to Loneliness. We used regression and multilevel modelling to identify potential relationships between Social Asymmetry and cognitive outcomes.

RESULTS:

Social Asymmetry predicted cognitive outcomes cross-sectionally and at a two-year follow-up, such that Discordant: Robust to Loneliness individuals were superior performers, but we failed to find evidence for Social Asymmetry as a predictor of cognitive trajectory over time.

CONCLUSIONS:

We present a new metric and preliminary evidence of a relationship with clinical outcomes. Further research validating this metric in different populations, and evaluating its relationship with other outcomes, is warranted. 

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