In the past couple of decades, more attention has been paid to the connection between overall health and a healthy social life. Last week, a Dutch study took that concept further by pointing out that loneliness is linked to risk for dementia.
The researchers tracked over 2,000 people who fit the criteria they established that defined lonely, and none had signs of dementia at onset. Of them, about half had been living alone for at least three years, half were single or divorced, three of four had no social support, and one fifth reported feeling lonely.
The study’s results were definitive:
• Of those who lived alone, 9.3% had developed dementia after three years; a significant difference compared to the 5.6% of those who lived with others
• Similar rates were found among those who never got married or were divorced
• Of those who felt lonely, 13.4% developed dementia as opposed to 5.7% who did not
• Those who lived alone or had been divorced had a 70% to 80% greater risk for dementia later in life—for these people who also felt lonely, that risk percentage climbed to 250%
The study found that people who felt lonely were 64% more likely to get dementia. Other markers of social isolation did not make a significant difference. But, loneliness itself is a serious risk factor for cognitive decline.
Loneliness may affect cognition and memory because the mind doesn’t exercise them as often. Or, loneliness could be a sign of developing dementia, perhaps a sign that cellular changes are occurring the brain. Under either definition, feelings of loneliness are directly tied to our long-term cognitive health.
Sources for Today’s Articles:
A Healthy Social Life Can Ward off Dementia
Holwerda, T., et al., “Feelings of loneliness, but not social isolation, predict dementia onset: results from the Amsterdam Study of the Elderly (AMSTEL),” J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry, published online December 10, 2012.