Using Gene Expression Analysis to Examine Changes in Loneliness, Depression and Systemic Inflammation in Lonely Chronically Ill Older Adults

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Purpose—The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of LISTEN (Loneliness Intervention) on loneliness, depression, physical health, systemic inflammation, and genomic expression in a sample of lonely, chronically ill, older adults. Methods—This was a prospective, longitudinal randomized trial of LISTEN, a novel intervention based on theories of narrative and cognitive restructuring to target specific aspects of loneliness. Twenty-three older, lonely, chronically ill adults were recruited from a family medicine clinic in West Virginia. Participants were randomized to two groups, 13 in LISTEN group (Loneliness Intervention) and 10 in attention control (healthy aging education). Participants attended an enrollment session where they completed consent, survey data (including sociodemographics and chronic illness diagnoses), baseline physical measures, and blood sampling for gene expression analysis. After completing the 5 weekly sessions, all participants attended a 12 week post data collection meeting (17 weeks post-baseline) for survey completion, physical measures and blood sampling. Results—The results of this study show that the LISTEN intervention improves measures of physical and psychosocial health. Specifically, subjects enrolled in LISTEN showed reductions in systolic blood pressure, as well as decreased feelings of loneliness and depression. These changes may be due, in part, to a reduction in systemic inflammation, as measured by interleukin-2. Conclusion—This study provides support for the use of LISTEN in reducing loneliness in chronically ill, older adults. Further, while some of our results are inconclusive, it provides rationale to expand our study population to evaluate the relationship between loneliness and systemic inflammation. In the future, enhancing knowledge about the relationships among loneliness, chronic illness, systemic inflammation, and gene expression of these particular targets, and how these relationships may change over time with intervention will inform translation of findings to clinical settings.