Loneliness in seniors can increase their risk for dementia by 40%, according to a recent study. In addition, this effect ranges across a diversity of people and is independent of how much social contact they have.
While several studies have shown the disastrous effects of loneliness on mental health, this study by researchers at Florida State University is the largest of its kind. Data was obtained from 12,000 participants, age 50 and older, in this long-term Health and Retirement study.
Dementia is characterized by a deterioration in memory, thinking, behavior, and the ability to perform everyday activities.
Currently, there are approximately 50 million people worldwide living with dementia, and it’s increasing. Doctors diagnose around 10 million new cases every year. Dementia is the major reason for disability and decline in the seniors population.
The study data contained measures of loneliness and social isolation and a range of risk factors, including behavioral, clinical, and genetic.
Participants were assessed every 2 years for up to 10 years.
Overall, loneliness was associated with a 40% higher risk of developing dementia over the course of the 10 year testing period. This link was independent of race, education, gender, or education.
Loneliness: Health Consequences
There are also several other health risk factors linked to dementia, such as depression, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
A person can have lots of social contact, be surrounded by people, and “be socially engaged” but still feel like they do not belong. In this case, they would score low on social isolation but high on loneliness.
The researchers speculate that loneliness and dementia could be linked through an inflammation pathway. Negative behavior such as heavy drinking and physical inactivity could be another factor.