Loneliness: A Risk Factor for Alzheimer’s Disease
As the population ages, more effort is being directed into research about one of the most frightening diseases associated with the elder years: Alzheimer’s disease. Cardiovascular disease, depression, diabetes, and smoking have already been identified as risk factors for this scourge of old age. But now a large, government-sponsored longitudinal study has uncovered a new risk factor: loneliness.
The study, published in The Journals of Gerontology, followed over 12,000 people aged 50 and over for ten years. Researchers found that after controlling for other known risk factors, loneliness was associated with an increased Alzheimer’s risk of 40% over the course of ten years. This increased risk was unrelated to gender, race, ethnic city, or education.
Interestingly, the increased risk provided by loneliness was also independent of whether the study participant was actually socially isolated. Social isolation is an objective measure of how many people someone has contact with on a regular basis; loneliness, however, is a subjective experience. This study demonstrated that a person’s feelings of loneliness affected their risk, regardless of the number of friends or social outlets they actually had.
This important study reinforces our understanding that risk factors need to be assessed not only on objective standards, but also according to how an individual interprets their situation.
The good news? “Loneliness,” says Dr. Angelina Sutin, lead author of the study, “is a modifiable risk factor.” How can you modify this risk factor for your loved one? By ensuring that someone is looking out for your loved one, taking note of their emotional state, and taking action to ensure they are healthy, emotionally as well as physically.
At Atlantic Coast Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, in Lakewood, NJ, our activities director and counselors ensure that each of our residents has a full and satisfying life. We take a restorative approach to elder care, maximizing our residents’ function and mobility in a positive and upbeat atmosphere.
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