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.