Loneliness in older adults was associated with increased use of high-risk medications, according to the findings of an analysis published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The study authors utilized the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP) leave-behind questionnaire to obtain data on a total of 6017 adults over 65 years of age. The in-home nationally representative survey evaluates loneliness on a scale, asking participants to categorize their loneliness as none, low/moderate, or high.

In-home medication logs were also utilized to evaluate commonly prescribed medications as well as polypharmacy. After adjustments were made based on age, gender, race/ethnicity, education, and multimorbidity, the probability of medication use was calculated by loneliness level.

Findings revealed a significant association between loneliness and use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs; no loneliness, 14%; low/moderate, 17%; high, 22%) benzodiazepines (no loneliness, 5%; low/moderate, 7%; high, 11%), anxiolytics/sedatives (no loneliness, 9%; low/moderate, 12%; high, 20%), antidepressants (no loneliness, 14%; low/moderate, 19%; high, 27%), and polypharmacy (no loneliness, 41%; low/moderate, 44%; high, 50%). The study also showed a nonsignificant association between loneliness and opioid use (no loneliness, 7%; low/moderate, 7%; high, 10%).


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“In this nationally representative cohort of older adults, loneliness was a powerful predictor of use of medications used to treat physical and psychological symptoms,” the authors stated. “Identifying and addressing loneliness may have the added benefit of allowing clinicians to reduce or avoid prescription of high-risk medications.”

Reference

Kotwal AA, Steinman MA, Cenzer I, Smith AK. Use of High-risk medications among lonely older adults: Results from a nationally representative sample. JAMA Intern. Med. Published online July 26, 2021. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2021.3775