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High prevalence and adverse health effects of loneliness in community-dwelling adults across the lifespan: role of wisdom as a protective factor

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 December 2018

Ellen E. Lee
Department of Psychiatry, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA IBM-UCSD Artificial Intelligence for Healthy Living Center, La Jolla, CA, USA
Colin Depp
Department of Psychiatry, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA IBM-UCSD Artificial Intelligence for Healthy Living Center, La Jolla, CA, USA Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, San Diego, CA, USA
Barton W. Palmer
Department of Psychiatry, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, San Diego, CA, USA
Danielle Glorioso
Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA IBM-UCSD Artificial Intelligence for Healthy Living Center, La Jolla, CA, USA
Rebecca Daly
Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA IBM-UCSD Artificial Intelligence for Healthy Living Center, La Jolla, CA, USA
Jinyuan Liu
Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA Department of Family Medicine and Public Health, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA
Xin M. Tu
Department of Psychiatry, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA Department of Family Medicine and Public Health, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA
Ho-Cheol Kim
IBM-UCSD Artificial Intelligence for Healthy Living Center, La Jolla, CA, USA Accessibility Research, IBM Research Division, San Jose, CA, USA
Peri Tarr
Accessibility Research, IBM Research Division, Yorktown Heights, NY, USA
Yasunori Yamada
Accessibility and Aging, IBM Research Division, Tokyo, Japan
Dilip V. Jeste*
Department of Psychiatry, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA IBM-UCSD Artificial Intelligence for Healthy Living Center, La Jolla, CA, USA Department of Neurosciences, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA
Correspondence should be addressed to: Dilip V. Jeste, Senior Associate Dean for Healthy Aging and Senior Care, Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences, Estelle and Edgar Levi Chair in Aging, Director, Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging, University of California, San Diego, Co-Director of IBM-UCSD Artificial Intelligence for Healthy Living Center, 9500 Gilman Drive #0664, La Jolla, CA 92023-0664, USA. Phone: (858) 534-4020. Fax: (858) 534-5475. Email:



This study of loneliness across adult lifespan examined its associations with sociodemographics, mental health (positive and negative psychological states and traits), subjective cognitive complaints, and physical functioning.


Analysis of cross-sectional data


340 community-dwelling adults in San Diego, California, mean age 62 (SD = 18) years, range 27–101 years, who participated in three community-based studies.


Loneliness measures included UCLA Loneliness Scale Version 3 (UCLA-3), 4-item Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS) Social Isolation Scale, and a single-item measure from the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression (CESD) scale. Other measures included the San Diego Wisdom Scale (SD-WISE) and Medical Outcomes Survey- Short form 36.


Seventy-six percent of subjects had moderate-high levels of loneliness on UCLA-3, using standardized cut-points. Loneliness was correlated with worse mental health and inversely with positive psychological states/traits. Even moderate severity of loneliness was associated with worse mental and physical functioning. Loneliness severity and age had a complex relationship, with increased loneliness in the late-20s, mid-50s, and late-80s. There were no sex differences in loneliness prevalence, severity, and age relationships. The best-fit multiple regression model accounted for 45% of the variance in UCLA-3 scores, and three factors emerged with small-medium effect sizes: wisdom, living alone and mental well-being.


The alarmingly high prevalence of loneliness and its association with worse health-related measures underscore major challenges for society. The non-linear age-loneliness severity relationship deserves further study. The strong negative association of wisdom with loneliness highlights the potentially critical role of wisdom as a target for psychosocial/behavioral interventions to reduce loneliness. Building a wiser society may help us develop a more connected, less lonely, and happier society.

Original Research Article
© International Psychogeriatric Association 2018 

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