Our primary objective was to estimate the association between loneliness and unmet healthcare needs and if the association changes when adjusted for demographic and health factors. Our secondary objective was to examine the associations by gender (men, women, gender diverse).
Design, setting, participants
Retrospective cross-sectional data from 44 423 community-dwelling Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging participants aged 45 years and older were used.
Primary outcome measure
Unmet healthcare needs are measured by asking respondents to indicate (yes, no) if there was a time when they needed healthcare in the last 12 months but did not receive it.
In our sample of 44 423 respondents, 8.5% (n=3755) reported having an unmet healthcare need in the previous 12 months. Lonely respondents had a higher percentage of unmet healthcare needs (14.4%, n=1474) compared with those who were not lonely (6.7%, n=2281). Gender diverse had the highest percentage reporting being lonely and having an unmet healthcare need (27.3%, n=3), followed by women (15.4%, n=887) and men (13.1%, n=583). In our logistic regression, lonely respondents had higher odds of having an unmet healthcare need in the previous 12 months than did not lonely (adjusted odd ratios (aOR) 1.80, 95% CI 1.64 to 1.97), adjusted for other covariates. In the gender-stratified analysis, loneliness was associated with a slightly greater likelihood of unmet healthcare needs in men (aOR 1.90, 95% CI 1.64 to 2.19) than in women (aOR 1.73, 95% CI 1.53 to 1.95). In the gender diverse, loneliness was also associated with increased likelihood of having an unmet healthcare need (aOR 1.38, 95% CI 0.23 to 8.29).
Loneliness was related to unmet healthcare needs in the previous 12 months, which may suggest that those without robust social connections experience challenges accessing health services. Gender-related differences in loneliness and unmet needs must be further examined in larger samples.