Loneliness Linked To Increased Risk Of Alzheimer's Disease

By Toby Roberts

People who feel lonely may be twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease in their later years as those who feel they have a close network of friends and family, researchers report. The findings appeared in the Archives of General Psychiatry, a mental health journal from the American Medical Association.

Earlier research has linked social isolation to an increased risk for dementia. People with a limited social network, those who do not get married, and individuals who participate in few activities with others all appear to be at higher risk for dementia.

"In contrast, little is known about the association of dementia with emotional isolation, or loneliness, which refers to perceived social isolation and feeling disconnected from others--that is, to dissatisfaction with social interactions, rather than their absence," the authors write.

Study leader Dr. Robert S. Wilson, from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, and colleagues analyzed the association between loneliness and Alzheimer's disease in 823 seniors (average age of 80). At the start of the study, all the participants filled out questionnaires to assess feelings of loneliness. They filled out similar surveys two years later, and again two years after that. Loneliness was measured on a scale of one to five, with higher scores indicating a greater degree of loneliness. Those in the study also underwent extensive testing for problems with thinking, learning, and memory, symptoms that might indicate the presence of Alzheimer's disease.

At the first examination, participants' average loneliness score was 2.3. During the study period, 76 of the seniors were given a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. The risk for developing Alzheimer's disease increased by over 50 percent for each point on the loneliness score, so that a person with a high loneliness score (3.2) had about 2.1 times the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease than a person with a low score (1.4). Feeling lonely was linked to a higher Alzheimer's risk, even after researchers considered such factors as a small social network and infrequent social activities.

Autopsies were performed on 90 seniors who died during the study. Curiously, feeling lonely during life was not related to any of the hallmark brain changes associated with Alzheimer's disease, such as plaques and tangles or other damage in the brain.

Scientists are unsure why or how loneliness may be linked to dementia. Because loneliness levels remained relatively stable during the course of the study, even in people who were diagnosed with Alzheimer's, it seems unlikely that loneliness is caused by dementia, the researchers note.

"In human beings, loneliness has been associated with impaired social skills," they write. "Thus, neural systems underlying social behavior might be less elaborated in lonely persons." As a result, they speculate, the brains of lonely people may be less able to compensate for the onslaughts of a disease like Alzheimer's.

Still, this does not rule out the possibility that individuals who experience the early stages of cognitive decline may become lonely due to the isolating effects of mental decline. The authors of the study call for further research to investigate these and other possibilities.

Alzheimer's is a complex disease that likely has a variety of causes. The genes you inherit, advancing age, exercise habits, the foods you eat, and myriad other factors may all influence who develops Alzheimer's in old age, and who remains mentally sharp and alert. The Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation continues to fund critical research into the underlying causes of Alzheimer's, care of the disease, and the search for a cure. To learn more, visit alzinfo.org, The Alzheimer's Information Site.

More Resources

$errorCode = 9
xml_error_string() = Invalid character
xml_get_current_line_number() = 380
xml_get_current_column_number() = 23
xml_get_current_byte_index() = 39051
Custom Search

More Alzheimer's Articles:

Related Articles

Alzheimer's Disease - Common Risk Factors

Overview of some of the common risk factors for Alzheimer's Disease, compiled by the manager of a Lexington nursing home specializing in Alzheimer's care.

Diagnosing Alzheimer's Disease: Changes in Daily Life

Getting diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease is one of the most life-changing and stressful things that can happen within the confines of a doctor's office. Most people believe that once you are diagnosed with Alzheimer's, it is an immediate death sentence, but that is not true. Alzheimer's comes in stages and while very advanced cases will require 24 hour medical attention and care from a trained nurse or helper, the early stages of the disease are quite manageable with only a few small changes in your life, which is why diagnosing alzheimer's early is key.

Alzheimer's Affects A Growing Segment Of Elderly Population

An updated review of the most common nervous system disorders in the United States found that 67 out of every 1,000 elderly Americans carries a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, a figure substantially higher than previous estimates. The findings were published in the January 30 issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Do You Have Alzheimer's- or Normal Forgetfulness?

We all have moments when we forget something. When we experience occasional memory loss, how can we tell whether it's just normal forgetfulness due to aging, or if we are actually getting Alzheimer's disease? Here are some of the signs that will tell you when your memory loss is normal, and when you should get it checked out.

Learning How To Cope With Alzheimers Disease

Did you know that Alzheimer's Disease is the most common form of dementia? It is a condition that affects the neurological health of an afflicted patient and is a degenerative disease of the brain from which presently, there is no recovery with over 4 Million Americans suffering from this dementia. The illness is devastating and robs both the sufferer and also their family and friends of treasured moments. Alzheimers is equally one of the most emotionally draining and traumatic conditions for both sufferer and family alike.

Coping with Alzheimer's Disease

Many elderly people in nursing facilities have Alzheimer's disease. This disease causes the short term potion of the brain to shut down. Elderly people who have the disease may forget their children's names, but will remember events and people from their childhood.

Psychiatry for Physicians-Dementia - Dementia of Alzheimer's Type

Dementia is a part of the clinical presentation in Alzheimer's disease. It is a silent killer. A clear idea about it is important at least for early diagnosis.

Treating Alzheimer's Disease Naturally

Herbal medicine is one of the more controversial subjects in medical science today. Combine that with Alzheimer's, one of the most misunderstood and confusing illnesses and you have an explosive situation that has many concerned parties on both sides of the issue. There is no known cause for Alzheimer's and no known cure, either. Because of this huge gap in knowledge, treating alzheimer's naturally with herbal treatments has become a big market. With treatments making promises that conventional medicine can't.

New Gene Linked To Alzheimer's

Scientists have discovered a gene that may play an important role in the onset of Alzheimer's disease. The gene, called SORL1, was uncovered in a huge international study involving 6,000 people from varying ethnic groups. Dominican families that carry the gene are about three times more likely to develop Alzheimer's in old age than those who do not have the gene.

Alzheimer's Symptoms

Alzheimer's is a disease that affects the brain cells, it leads to dementia and a deterioration of the brain. This disease can be hard to diagnose, because it happens slowly and the symptoms are mild. The only symptom is a mild forgetfulness, for example, forgetting recent events, and a person name or being unable to solve simple problems.