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Loneliness in Multiple Sclerosis: Possible Antecedents and Correlates

Does multiple sclerosis and its symptoms impact your patient's risk of loneliness? The Rehabilitation Nursing Journal article, "Loneliness in Multiple Sclerosis: Possible Antecedents and Correlates," discusses the relationship between multiple sclerosis (MS) and loneliness. The article, which was written by Drs. Balto, Pilutti, and Motl, is centered around a study that uses the Perlman and Paplau's social psychology theory of loneliness and the UCLA loneliness scale to examine and compare the extent of loneliness between adults with MS and healthy adults.

Association between Loneliness and Multiple Sclerosis 

MS is a chronic, immune-mediated disease of the nervous system that presents numerous symptoms varying in severity that impact nearly all aspects of life. Symptoms include loss of walking mobility, cognitive dysfunction, and symptomatic fatigue and depression. Loneliness is experienced when there is a significant shortfall in the quantity and/or quality of one's network of social relationships.

How are MS and loneliness related?

The symptoms of MS may be aggravated by the correlates of loneliness. This can include low socioeconomic status, education level, fatigue, daytime dysfunction, and decreased quality of life. The specific aims of this study were to compare the extent of loneliness between persons with MS and healthy adults; examine the association of sociodemographic variables, disability, and functional limitations and loneliness in persons with MS; and examine depression, anxiety, fatigue, and quality of life as possible correlates of loneliness. The goal was to inform future research investigating loneliness in MS and provide a new prospective for treating loneliness in MS and other symptoms of MS for healthcare providers.

The following three premises were arrived at in this study:

  1. Persons with MS reported feeling lonely more than healthy adults and this difference was based on employment status.
  2. Potential antecedents of loneliness amongst persons with MS are the rate at which a disability occurs, operational limitations, and marital status. These potential antecedents are all manifestations of MS in a person's life.
  3. Correlates of loneliness amongst those with MS include anxiety, depression, and reduced quality of life—all of which are also symptoms of MS.

This article indicates that even though the results of the study may not be necessarily generalized amongst patients with MS, the importance of addressing loneliness with MS patients cannot be overstated. Healthcare workers, like rehabilitation nurses, should be cognizant of this and work through current programs and collaborations in care delivery that help reduce the risk of symptoms associated with the disease. 

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