When I think of the folks I know and knew who lived into their 90s and never developed Alzheimer’s symptoms or dementia, I think of those who remain active and happy.
Lonely? They never showed it.
One of my aunts lived to age 93, and was active in her community – the senior living center she lived in. She made ornaments for their Christmas bazaar up until shortly before her death. And she remained active in her bridge club and other social activities.
A few months before she passed, she told me how sad going to the cemetery had become. Too many friends and family – often younger than she – were there. That’s the closest I remember her saying she felt lonely.
And she had no evidence of Alzheimer’s symptoms or dementia.
Loneliness is apparently a risk factor for dementia. It’s important to recognize this is different than being socially isolated.
Some folks like – even thrive – when alone. Or living what others might consider social isolation.
A recent study from The Netherlands confirms that people who feel lonely are more likely to develop dementia in old age. This study showed that it is the feeling of loneliness. not actual social isolation that is the risk factor.
Here’s part of the abstract from the journal article showing people who feel lonely have a 64% increased risk of developing dementia –
Feelings of loneliness, but not social isolation, predict dementia onset: results from the Amsterdam Study of the Elderly (AMSTEL)
Tjalling Jan Holwerda, Dorly J H Deeg, Aartjan T F Beekman, Theo G van Tilburg, Max L Stek, Cees Jonker, Robert A Schoevers
Known risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias include medical conditions, genetic vulnerability, depression, demographic factors and mild cognitive impairment. The role of feelings of loneliness and social isolation in dementia is less well understood, and prospective studies including these risk factors are scarce.
After adjustment for other risk factors, older persons with feelings of loneliness were more likely to develop dementia (OR 1.64, 95% CI 1.05 to 2.56) than people without such feelings. Social isolation was not associated with a higher dementia risk in multivariate analysis.
Feeling lonely rather than being alone is associated with an increased risk of clinical dementia in later life and can be considered a major risk factor that, independently of vascular disease, depression and other confounding factors, deserves clinical attention. Feelings of loneliness may signal a prodromal stage of dementia. A better understanding of the background of feeling lonely may help us to identify vulnerable persons and develop interventions to improve outcome in older persons at risk of dementia.
Is loneliness the cause or result of dementia?
Good question. And one that likely is not answered – yet. It also may vary between individuals. What is known is feeling lonely is a risk factor for developing dementia later.
Whether loneliness is a cause or result of dementia, the findings are intriguing. Could preventing loneliness prevent dementia?
Encouraging someone to feel loved and needed may be one way to fight dementia and Alzheimers symptoms.
Caring for someone with dementia including Alzheimer’s symptoms can be challenging, to say the least. Even a routine trip or errand can become a struggle. Especially if folks around you are upset.
Now you can discretely let others know that you are with someone with Alzheimers symptoms or another dementia.
Silently without alerting the whole room. Just click here now for cards to carry with you.
To your happy and healthy caregiving,