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  • This article from the Washington Post “Loneliness grows from individual ache to public health hazard” got us thinking about what NCI data show about loneliness.

    The article states that loneliness has recently begun to be seen as a public health hazard. Loneliness has lasting consequences for physical health, comparable to the deleterious effects of smoking, diabetes and obesity. A study out of the UCLA School of Medicine demonstrated complex immune system responses in lonely people. “They found that social isolation turned up the activity of genes responsible for inflammation and turned down the activity of genes that produce antibodies to fight infection.”

    What do NCI data show about loneliness?

    The 2014-15 NCI Adult Consumer Survey Dataset (still preliminary data) consists of 25,820 cases from 31 states, Washington DC and one sub-state entity. 15,765 people answered the question: “Do you ever feel lonely.” Only those with valid responses to this question will be included in the analysis in this blog post.

    • 62% of respondents reported feeling lonely “not often (less than half the time).”
    • 27% reported feeling lonely “sometimes (about half the time)” and
    • 10% of respondents reported feeling lonely “often (more than half the time.)”

    For the purposes of this blog, we will collapse the responses for “sometimes” and “often.” Only differences that are significant at the p<=.05 level will be reported in this blog post.

    Let’s look a little at the demographics and personal characteristics of people who do and do not feel lonely.

    • Females sometimes or often feel lonely at a higher rate than males (39% vs. 36%)
    • When compared to those who do not feel lonely often, a higher proportion of those who sometimes or often feel lonely are diagnosed with mood disorder (39% vs 28%), anxiety disorder (29% vs. 23%), behavior challenges (28% vs. 23%), and/or psychotic disorder (15% vs 11%)
    • When compared to those who do not feel lonely often, a higher proportion of those who sometimes or often feel lonely report a diagnosis of diabetes (13% cs. 12%)
    • When compared to those who do not feel lonely often, a higher proportion of those who sometimes or often feel lonely report a diagnosis of hearing loss (7% vs. 6%)
    • When compared to those who do not feel lonely often, a smaller proportion of those who sometimes or often feel lonely are reported to be in excellent health (14% vs 17%)

    Residence Type:

    For the purposes of this blog, we broke up residence types by size.

    Individuals living in large congregate settings (7+ people with disabilities living together) reported sometimes or often feeling lonely at a higher rate than those living in smaller congregate settings (1-6 people with disabilities living together), followed by those living independently, with parents or relatives or in foster care/host home.

    • ICF or Group Home, 1-6 people: 42% of those living in this residence type report sometimes or often feeling lonely
    • ICF or Group Home, 7+ people or Nursing Home: 45% of those living in this residence type report sometimes or often feeling lonely
    • Independent home or apt., parent or relative's home, foster care/host home: 37% of those living in these residence types report sometimes or often feeling lonely

    Relationships:

    A smaller proportion of respondents who reported having friends other than staff or family reported feeling lonely sometimes or often, when compared with those respondents who did not have friends other than staff or family. (37% vs. 40%)Relationships:

    A smaller proportion of respondents who reported being able to see their friends whenever they want reported feeling lonely sometimes or often, when compared with those respondents who could not see their friends whenever they want. (35% vs. 46%)

    A smaller proportion of respondents who reported being able to see their family whenever they want reported feeling lonely sometimes or often, when compared with those respondents who could not see their family whenever they want. (34% vs. 49%)

    Employment

    A smaller proportion of respondents who had a paid job in the community reported feeling lonely sometimes or often, when compared with those respondents who did not have a paid job in the community. (36% vs. 38%)

     

    As more attention is played to loneliness and the effects it has on our health and wellbeing, NCI data can reveal much about the outcomes for individuals who feel lonely vs. those who feel lonely less often. Stay tuned!