Published on: March 14, 2013
by Tim Watt for Sunrise Senior Living:
Many seniors already know the joy of being surrounded by friends and family, but the recent Amsterdam Study of the Elderly has proven that loneliness increases the risk of dementia in older adults by as much as 64 percent.
Loneliness has an impact
Research conducted over three years on more than 2,000 seniors living outside of a long-term care setting determined that loneliness was a significant factor when predicting an individual’s odds of developing dementia. Even after adjusting the findings for other factors such as age, initial cognitive functioning and socioeconomic status, the researchers found that lonely seniors were more likely to develop dementia than those who did not have these feelings.
Feelings, not circumstances, matter most
Although seniors who lived alone did have higher rates of depression than those who lived with others, social isolation was not the strongest predictor of dementia – feelings of loneliness were. The researchers found that 9.3 percent of seniors living alone developed dementia, compared with 5.6 percent of those living with another person. The study also showed that older adults who reported feeling lonely were 250 percent more likely to have developed dementia over the course of the study than their non-lonely peers, no matter their living conditions.
“These results suggest that feelings of loneliness independently contribute to the risk of dementia in later life,” the researchers wrote in the study. “Interestingly, the fact that ‘feeling lonely’ rather than ‘being alone’ was associated with dementia onset suggests that it is not the objective situation, but, rather, the perceived absence of social attachments that increases the risk of cognitive decline.”
What does this mean?
The researchers admitted that they did not have information on the source of the participants’ loneliness – whether it had developed recently or was a long-term part of an individual’s personality. Still, the study could add to research supporting the importance of social stimulation and mental health resources for seniors. Yale Medical Group reports that seniors who are social may have a reduced risk for cardiovascular problems, Alzheimer’s disease and depression. They also have lower blood pressure and are more physically active.
Studies such as this make a strong case for senior living communities, where older adults live among their peers and commonly participate in activities for the mind, body and spirit with friends and neighbors. Even though living with others was not the sole factor that lowered loneliness, it may be difficult to feel lonely when participating in group crafts, games and classes offered at these elder acre communities.
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