Loneliness and associated factors among middle-aged and older adults: cross-sectional and longitudinal survey results from the HAALSI cohort in South Africa

Supa Pengpid, Karl Peltzer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Objectives: Longitudinal studies on chronic loneliness and before and during the COVID-19 pandemic are lacking in Africa. The study aimed to estimate the prevalence and associated factors of loneliness and chronic loneliness using cross-sectional and longitudinal data from middle-aged and older adults from rural South Africa. Method: The analysis utilized data from the South African 7-year longitudinal Health and Ageing in Africa: A Longitudinal Study of an INDEPTH Community in South Africa (HAALSI) (analytic sample: n = 3,418, aged 40 years and older). Loneliness was assessed with a single and 3-item measure. Results: The proportion of loneliness was 19.5% in the 2021/2022 survey, the incidence of chronic loneliness (having loneliness in wave 2 and 3, and free of loneliness in wave 1) was 18.9%, and the 7-year incidence of loneliness was 41.0%. Comparing the 2019 (pre-COVID-19) to 2021/2022 (during COVID-19 pandemic) surveys participants experienced a significant reduction of loneliness. In cross-sectional and/or longitudinal analyses, we found that younger age, living alone, food insecurity, lack of social engagement, depressed mood, poor life satisfaction, poor sleep quality, impaired cognition, poor self-rated health, functional disability, underweight, obesity, and not living with HIV were associated with a higher prevalence, incidence and/or increases in loneliness. Conclusion: One in five aging adults had acute or chronic loneliness. Several social, mental, and physical health factors were identified as associated with loneliness.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAging and Mental Health
DOIs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2024
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • cohort study
  • Loneliness
  • mental health
  • physical health
  • social factors
  • South Africa

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