What is the Relationship Between Alzheimer’s and Loneliness?
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Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us have experienced feelings of loneliness and social isolation. A recent report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found that over one-third of American adults aged 45 and older feel lonely.
Loneliness among older adults is widespread across the globe, and it can have serious consequences for physical and mental health.
Loneliness and social isolation can also play a role in a person’s risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, and regular social engagement can help those living with the disease. Below, we explore some of the latest research on this topic and provide strategies for addressing loneliness in day-to-day life.
Alzheimer’s Disease and Loneliness
A 2022 study, called I-CONECT, examined the relationship between social interaction and cognitive decline. Researchers at Oregon Health and Science University provided 186 adults aged 75 and older with tablets to enable weekly 30-minute video chats over the course of one year. Some participants had mild cognitive impairment, and others did not. Compared to those who did not complete weekly video chats, those with cognitive impairment who socialized regularly had notably higher scores on a memory and thinking test.
Another 2022 study of over 2,000 participants found that individuals with a genetic risk for Alzheimer’s, as well as loneliness, were three times as likely to develop dementia than those without. The researchers also found that loneliness was associated with changes in the brain related to Alzheimer’s disease.
Loneliness can also increase risk for other conditions, such as depression and anxiety, as well as obesity and high blood pressure. These conditions may also heighten a person’s likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Strategies for Dealing With Loneliness
Loneliness is a complex societal issue, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Furthermore, some individuals are more likely to experience loneliness. The following factors can heighten risk: living alone, experiencing language barriers, living in rural or unsafe neighborhood, the death of a spouse or other loved one, and experiencing routine discrimination based on race, sexual orientation, gender identity, or ability.
Below are some recommendations for you or your loved one to help overcome loneliness and foster social engagement:
• Schedule a regular time on your calendar to chat with a friend or family member, either in person, over video, or with a phone call.
• Enroll in courses. Many community centers and libraries offer continuing education classes, including cooking, computer literacy, musical instruments, and foreign languages
• If you are living alone with dementia, identify a trusted individual, such as a friend, family, or neighbor, with whom you can check in regularly, and who can serve as an emergency contact
• Exercise a few times a week. This could mean a walk around your neighborhood, an afternoon spent gardening, or some gentle stretching indoors. Exercise can help improve mobility, allowing you or a loved to better explore and engage with the local community
• Consult with your physician — they can point you toward helpful resources
We want to sincerely thank you all for your continued involvement in our research. On behalf of the entire BHR Team, we wish you a happy and healthy 2023!