Social relations and loneliness among older patients consulting their general practitioner

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Introduction: Social relations are important for people and affect their quality of life, morbidity and mortality. This holds true especially for older persons. General practitioners (GPs) are in a unique position to address social relations and loneliness; however, no GP population-based studies have assessed older patients’ social relations and loneliness. The aim of this study was to analyse the social relations and loneliness of patients aged 65 years and above consulting their GP.

Methods: This survey counted the participation of 12 general practices in the Capital Region of Denmark. During a three-week period, the practices invited their patients to fill out a questionnaire on health, social relations and loneliness. 

Results: Of 767 eligible patients, 474 were included and 461 answered one or more items about social participation or loneliness. A total of 36.2% had a high, 45.5% had a medium and 18.3% had a low social participation; and 17.9% often or occasionally felt lonely. Higher social participation was associated with a lower degree of loneliness. However, several patients answered in a manner not fitting the expected association. Anxiety and depressive symptoms, living alone and low social participation were the most im­port­ant predictive variables for loneliness. Only 15.2% of the lonely patients had talked to their GP about their loneliness.

Conclusion: A total of 17.9% of older patients stated that they were lonely either often or occasionally. The most important predictors were: anxiety and depressive symptoms, living alone and low social participation. The lonely patients rarely shared these issues with their GP. The study also reveals a need to discuss the assessment of social participation and loneliness in both research and practice.

Funding: Danish Agency for Culture and Palaces. The EGV Foundation. The Committee of Multipractice Studies in General Practice.

Trial registration: not relevant.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberA5342
JournalDanish Medical Journal
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)1-6
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017

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