The Loneliness of Caregiving

Dec 10, 2012, 8:45 AM, Posted by

Laurie Theeke, PhD, RN, is an assistant professor of nursing at West Virginia University and a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholar. Her research emphasizes the development of interventions that target loneliness as a psychosocial stressor that impacts overall health.


Due to increased longevity in the older adult population, significant numbers of older adults are finding themselves serving as caregivers for spouses, children, and grandchildren. Loneliness has been identified as a key predictor of poor quality of life for caregivers.

Caregivers make difficult personal choices on an everyday basis that frequently involve personal sacrifice of time spent in leisure activities, time with family beyond the specific caregiving relationship, and time spent enjoying and maintaining normal social networks that enhance wellness.

Caregivers can experience internal conflicts between not wanting to leave the loved one who needs them and the need for personal expression, development, and socialization. This conflict can present as psychological stress, potentially contributing to negative health outcomes for the caregivers.

As nurses, it is important to recognize that the loneliness experienced by caregivers is predictive of depression and may ultimately be the demise of the caregiving arrangement if it results in functional decline or illness in the caregiver.

Recognizing when caregivers are experiencing loneliness and making the appropriate referrals to both health and community professionals for intervention and support could diminish caregiver loneliness and thereby improve caregiver quality of life.

Further, addressing caregiver loneliness could have an impact on the health care system as it could prolong caregiving situations that would otherwise collapse.

See other posts about caregiving on the RWJF Human Capital Blog.

Learn more about the RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholars program.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.