According to a recent article published in the February issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, seniors who report being lonely are more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
The article is based on a study carried out by Robert S. Wilson, PhD, which was conducted at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Dr. Wilson and his colleagues asked 823 individuals with an average age of 80 years to undergo a series of evaluations. Participants were asked to answer questions to assess loneliness and to distinguish classifications of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Loneliness was measured on a scale of one to five, with higher scores meaning greater loneliness. Data was collected over a five-year period.
Questions posed to assess loneliness included such statements as “I experience a general sense of emptiness,” and “I often feel abandoned.”
The initial examination revealed an average loneliness score of 2.3. During the period of the study, 76 individuals developed Alzheimer’s disease. It was found that the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease increased approximately 51% for each point on the loneliness scale. A person with a score of 3.2 on the scale, for example, had about two times the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than a person with a score of 1.4.
Dr. Wilson has said one of the important realizations to take away from the study is that “we need to be aware that loneliness doesn’t just have an emotional impact, but a physical impact.”
And in another conclusion, Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust said: “What I find particularly interesting about this study is the fact that it is an individual’s perception of being lonely rather than their actual degree of social isolation that seems to correlate most closely with their Alzheimer’s risk.”
If you feel isolated from others, know that there are steps you can take to ease this emotional and physical strain. You can start by visiting your local senior center. There you can find a whole host of activities that may include foreign language classes, shuffleboard, billiards, choir, bowling, art classes, computer classes, quilting, yoga, and even planned day trips you can participate in. Membership fees are usually small or nonexistent for seniors. Transportation may be provided to and from the center as well. Check with your local community and senior centers to see what is being offered.
Keep busy, get involved in social activities, and, if you can, help someone else in some way. When you are engaged in helping another person, you might find that your loneliness will disappear. Often, having someone take an interest in who you are and what you are doing in your life will get you back on track and feeling connected to your community.