Background The negative health impact of loneliness is increasingly recognized, however, its prevalence among cancer patients receiving palliative care is yet unknown.
Methods This is a cross-sectional study performed in the palliative care unit of Caritas Medical Centre, Hong Kong. Patients were invited to response the single-item questions, ‘Are you feeling lonely? (Yes or no.)’ Loneliness severity was assessed using the local version of De Jong Gierveld Loneliness Scale (short form). Symptom burden was assessed by the local version of the Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale (ESAS) with the 10th item assigned as ‘most lonely’. Patient‘s demographic and health-related data were extracted thru interview and health record.
Results Fifty-six patients participated in the study, the mean age of participants was 72.7 years old. The median Palliative Performance Scale was 70. Eight patients had a concomitant psychiatric illness. Seventeen patients (30.4%) answered ‘yes’ on the single-item question of loneliness. Eleven and ten patients were scored as severe loneliness in the emotional and social loneliness subscale of De Jong Gierveld Loneliness scale respectively. For those who admitted themselves lonely in the single-item questions, they scored higher in ESAS-Depression (5 vs 0), Anxiety (5 vs 0), Impaired Well-Being (5 vs 3) and Loneliness subscale (7 vs 0) as well as HADS-Depression (13 vs 8), -Anxiety (9 vs 4) and Total Score (22 vs 12). (Mann-Whitney U test, <0.05). Half of the patients rated 0 out of 10 in the ESAS loneliness subscale, while 21 patients rated 5 or above. It was correlated with HADS-Depression, -Anxiety and -Total score (Spearman correlation, p < 0.001).
Conclusions Loneliness is common among Hong Kong cancer patients receiving palliative care. The severity of loneliness may correlate with the severity of depression and anxiety.
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