Almost one in five cases of depression in older adults linked to loneliness – new UCL study

Almost one in five cases of depression in older adults could be prevented if loneliness were eliminated, research suggests.

Loneliness was linked to up to 18% of depression cases in adults aged over 50, researchers from University College London (UCL), King’s College London, Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust and Imperial College London found.

The researchers found that people’s subjective experiences of loneliness were linked to developing depression up to 12 years later, independent of more objective measures of social isolation.

The researchers reviewed data from 4,211 participants of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, aged 52 and over.

They answered questions over 12 years about their experiences of loneliness, social engagement, social support and depressive symptoms.

Loneliness scores were calculated from responses to questions about lacking companionship, feeling left out, and feeling isolated.

Each one-point increase on the loneliness scale corresponded to a doubling of the odds of developing depression.

Depressive symptoms increased over time among people with greater loneliness, suggesting that loneliness may be leading to future depression, the researchers found.

Following up after one year, they found 18% of depression cases could be linked to loneliness, and 11% of cases at the end of the follow-up period.

Senior author Dr Gemma Lewis, from UCL’s Division of Psychiatry, said: “We found that whether people considered themselves to be lonely was a bigger risk factor for depression than how many social contacts and support they had.

“The findings suggest that it’s not just spending time with other people that matters, but having meaningful relationships and companionship.”

Dr Lewis added: “Our study has important public health implications, as it suggests that community-based approaches designed to reduce loneliness could reduce depression rates.

“Building relationships, meaningful connections and a sense of belongingness may be more important than just increasing how much time people spend with others.”

The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging, in the US, and a consortium of UK Government departments coordinated by the National Institute for Health Research.

It is published in The Lancet Psychiatry.

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2020, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Pixabay.