Loneliness and Dementia – The Problem with Social Isolation
Updated: Dec 1, 2021
As per the latest research, persistent loneliness can spur the onset of Alzheimer’s or dementia. On the other hand, people who eventually recover from loneliness are less likely to develop the disease than those who have never felt lonely.
Too Much Alone Time
While being on your own, every now and then, is great for personal growth, it seems too much alone time in the latter half of one’s life is counterproductive. Why, though? Let us first understand that loneliness is a very subjective feeling. Usually, it is a consequence of being away from loved ones physically. At other times, it is a result of perceived discrepancies in one’s desired and actual relationships.
Loneliness, Dementia and Risk Factors
Though it is not a medical condition in itself, loneliness can lead to many negative health outcomes such as laziness, insomnia, inflammation, and cognitive impairment - even strokes! These are all risk factors for dementia. Different people experience loneliness to different degrees. Perhaps that is why those who recover from it suffer different long-term health consequences. Either way, it has been proven to exacerbate dementia symptoms in the young and the old.
What the Experts Say About Loneliness and Dementia
Case in point: a recent study undertaken by the National Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine Committee. Herein, it was found that social isolation in older adults increased risks of dementia by 50%, coronary heart diseases by 30%, and death by 26%. Although the actual underlying neural mechanisms are yet to be fully understood, it is thought that loneliness and other psychological stressors activate the brain’s stress responses. If the stress persists, one becomes immune to the stress response, thereby leading to inflammation and compromised immunity, especially in the elderly. Ultimately, this causes diseases.
Experts also point to depression while trying to explain the relationship between dementia and loneliness - a key risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Lonely individuals suffer from a lack of social and cognitive stimulation from others which, over time, slows brain activity. In fact, two recent studies have proved that people with an increased sense of loneliness have higher levels of amyloid and tau – proteins that also accumulate in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients and hamper their overall functioning.
However, one must remember these are the results of observational studies which are notorious for reverse causations. For instance, amyloid accumulation is a slow process that spans years and could alter the feelings of loneliness itself. Not to mention, perceived loneliness may or may not vary over time. As such, we cannot conclude that it will cause dementia or Alzheimer’s for sure.
Protecting Against Dementia
Nonetheless, it is important to protect against it. Adults who are satisfied with their relationships are 23% less likely to develop dementia, while those who feel supported by their loved ones have a 55% less risk. Social activity buffers cognitive decline, even in those who live alone or show amyloid and tau deposits in the brain.
Being Social Matters
Therefore, one must maintain regular contact with elderly friends or relatives so that they know they are not alone. If they live with you, consider enrolling them in support groups or community programs wherein they can not only mingle with others in similar situations but also get in some physical activity during the day.
There are many senior care facilities that offer engaging group activities like indoor gardening, exercise, and discussions on books and art, etc., to stimulate the mind. If the distance is an issue, one can resort to video conferencing to keep in touch with them. Alternatively, you can buy a pet for your loved one. This will cure the lack of companionship and keep them occupied. And of course, make sure you have them checked up by the doctors regularly.
Staying Social At Light Heart Memory Care
At Light Heart Memory Care we understand the need for social connection and interaction. Seniors suffering from memory loss are surrounded by a family of professionals and residents who really understand. Your senior will never be lonely here. Our small community of 8 residents means our seniors are doted on every day.
In honor of our founder Pat Mack, we are carrying on the tradition of caring for our residents in "The Light Heart Way"
Light Heart Memory Care homes are specially designed for 8 residents. This gives us the ability to give personalized care to each and every resident.
Contact us to learn more about Light Heart Memory care,
or book a free consultation.