Loneliness as a Public Health Issue: The Impact of Loneliness on Health Care Utilization Among Older Adults

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Objectives. We aimed to determine whether loneliness is associated with higher health care utilization among older adults in the United States.

Methods. We used panel data from the Health and Retirement Study (2008 and 2012) to examine the long-term impact of loneliness on health care use. The sample was limited to community-dwelling persons in the United States aged 60 years and older. We used negative binomial regression models to determine the impact of loneliness on physician visits and hospitalizations.

Results. Under 2 definitions of loneliness, we found that a sizable proportion of those aged 60 years and older in the United States reported loneliness. Regression results showed that chronic loneliness (those lonely both in 2008 and 4 years later) was significantly and positively associated with physician visits (β = 0.075, SE = 0.034). Loneliness was not significantly associated with hospitalizations.

Conclusions. Loneliness is a significant public health concern among elders. In addition to easing a potential source of suffering, the identification and targeting of interventions for lonely elders may significantly decrease physician visits and health care costs.

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Kerstin Gerst-Emerson, PhD, and Jayani Jayawardhana, PhDKerstin Gerst-Emerson and Jayani Jayawardhana are with the Department of Health Policy and Management, University of Georgia, Athens. Kerstin Gerst-Emerson is also with the Institute of Gerontology, University of Georgia. “Loneliness as a Public Health Issue: The Impact of Loneliness on Health Care Utilization Among Older Adults”, American Journal of Public Health 105, no. 5 (May 1, 2015): pp. 1013-1019.


PMID: 25790413