A recent study found that people who feel lonely have an increased risk of developing dementia. Previous studies have shown that social isolation, of being alone has been linked with an increased risk of cognitive decline. Studies have also linked having an extensive social network with less cognitive decline. This new study from the Netherlands added to what was known because it separated people's feelings of loneliness from whether they were actually alone.
The study took into account whether participants (age 65 to 86) were married or said they were socially isolated. Lonely people were 1.64 times more likely to develop dementia than people who were not lonely.
Working with older adults as we do, we understand how feelings of loneliness can overcome someone. Older adults often have experiences that directly impact the core reasons one does not tend to feel lonely. Losing old friends for example.
Thinking more about others and not so much about oneself is one way to ward off feelings of loneliness. This can be tough to do for an older adult with a chronic health condition that limits their activity.
Putting some fun into life by doing things with others is one of the best prescriptions for chasing away feelings of loneliness. For older adults who no longer drive and for whom their social circle has shrunk, this is not as easy a task. Family can often help, yet life is hectic and time in short supply.
People can live alone and not be lonely just as someone surrounded by people can feel lonely. From our experience with older adults, living in a senior community has many benefits. New residents often report how much more active they have become within a few weeks of moving in. That increased activity and social interaction tends to ward off loneliness. Now it appears to have the added benefit of preventing cognitive decline.