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Can loneliness contribute to dementia?

12 December 2012

Can loneliness contribute to dementia?

A new study has revealed a link between feelings of solitariness and developing dementia.

Researchers in Amsterdam tracked the long term health and wellbeing of around 2,000 people, with no signs of dementia.  Of those who lived alone, one in ten went on to develop the condition, compared to one in twenty of those who lived with others.  For people who said they were lonely, 13.4% went on to develop dementia compared to 5.7% of those who didn’t feel lonely.

The results also showed that of those who had never been married, similar proportions developed dementia as remained free from the condition.  This could be due to the fact
that these individuals are used to living alone so didn’t feel any negative feelings of solitariness.

The results could be due to the fact that those feeling lonely typically have a vulnerable personality or could be evidence of frailty which puts some people at risk of dementia.

The scientists involved in the study said, “These results suggest that feelings of loneliness independently contribute to the risk of dementia in later life.  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.”

Jessica Smith, of the Alzheimer’s Society, “As Christmas approaches, many of us are looking forward to full houses and festive parties.  However, for others it can be a time that can really heighten loneliness.”

Dr Simon Ridley of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said, “Age still remains the biggest risk factor for dementia, but this study links feelings of loneliness to a slightly higher risk of the condition.  While such a finding could have important consequences for society, it is hard to determine cause and effect at this stage – feelings of loneliness could be a consequence of the early stages of dementia rather than a contributing factor.”