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How Loneliness Affects Dementia Risk

Close up of a senior man's hands.

Dementia describes a variety of symptoms and conditions that result in memory loss or other declines in brain function. While dementia can be caused by many factors, the biggest risk factor for dementia is age. In seniors, 60-70 percent of cases are caused by Alzheimer’s disease. And, loneliness affects dementia risk.

According to the World Health Organization, as many as 50 million around the world are living with dementia today. Because it’s such a common condition, adult children are often concerned about dementia and the well-being of their aging parents.

Researchers have been studying the complex nature of dementia for years. Therefore, we now know many of its risk factors. While a few of your aging parent’s risk factors can’t be changed, including age or genetics, many can. In fact, recent studies have shown social isolation or feeling lonely as one of the keys to dementia risk.

The Link Between Dementia and Loneliness

A study published in 2018 in The Journals of Gerontology showed a link between dementia and loneliness. In the results, the researchers said that feelings of loneliness could increase a person’s risk of dementia by as much as 40 percent. Also, this increase affected people of all genders, races, education levels, and ethnicities.

As one of the largest of its kind, the study followed 12,000 people for 10 years. At the beginning of the study, each person gave details about their social isolation, feelings of loneliness, behaviors, and genetics. The study then followed each person to record any signs of dementia.

In a press release, the study’s lead researcher called loneliness a “modifiable risk factor,” which means it may change if a person’s lifestyle changes. Even if your aging parent has feelings of isolation, it’s a risk factor that can be changed for the better.

This recent study is one of several to connect feeling lonely with dementia risk, as well as other health concerns. As a result, The Gerontological Society released a report in 2018 focusing on the growing concern caused by social isolation in senior adults. 

Preventing Loneliness in Seniors

Is loneliness having an effect on your aging parent’s health? To help care for your loved one, it’s important to watch out for signs that he or she feels isolated. In addition to its link to dementia, social connection is vital to mom or dad’s overall wellness.

The study noted that people need different levels and types of social contact to avoid feeling lonely. Therefore, it’s important to talk to your mom or dad about his or her social activities. Does your loved one get the kinds of social contact needed to feel connected to others?

As you talk, one of the biggest issues you may find is his or her current living situation. Senior adults who live alone are less likely to get the social contact they need. Even with friends or loved ones nearby, not having the ability to drive may cause isolation. For that reason, living in an assisted living community can provide a way to stay connected. Communities allow your loved one to be near to others with similar interests. They also usually offer many activities to be social and connect with others.

We Keep Seniors Connected

At Signature Pointe, we offer a variety of activities to keep our residents connected. Call (972) 726-7575 and ask for a copy of our activities calendar.