Dementia is a disease that causes thinking skills to deteriorate gradually, eventually leading to debilitating memory loss and confusion. It occurs when brain cells lose their ability to communicate with one another, due to the presence of toxic proteins in the brain. There are many factors known to increase the risk of disease. Loneliness, according to one new study, could heighten the odds of developing dementia threefold.
A new study, published in the journal Neurology, has shown that individuals who experience loneliness could be at a threefold greater risk of dementia later on in life.
The results showed that the risk of dementia was heightened for individuals who experienced these feelings three or more times per week.
The findings highlight the pressing need to tackle loneliness among older generations, who are more likely to experience loneliness, according to official data.
Doctor Joel Salina, the study’s lead author and neurologist at New York University Langone Health, told Medical News Today: “[This study] provides Class I levels of evidence (the highest levels available) that lonely adults, especially those without major age or genetic risk factors, may have an elevated risk and early neurocognitive vulnerability for developing dementia.
“This magnifies the population health implications of observed trends in the growing prevalence of loneliness.
“These findings not only establish this link between loneliness and dementia risk much more firmly but also have implications for how we think about risk factors for dementia, the relevance of basic loneliness screening in assessing individuals at greater risk.
“[…] There is a potential to underestimate this risk in lonely adults, especially if they don’t have any known genetic risk facts […].”
The study adds evidence to the idea that mental stimulation can ward off signs of cognitive decline.
Previous studies have shown there are numerous pathways through which loneliness contributes to cognitive decline.
It’s been theorised, for instance, that loneliness could be interlinked with other poor health behaviours that may affect brain health.
Researchers believe that individuals who spend more time alone may be inclined to adopt poor dietary choices and avoid exercise.
What’s more, loneliness has been associated with depression, which is itself a risk factor for dementia.
It has also previously been discovered that individuals who experience loneliness are more likely to suffer from increased blood pressure and inflammation.
The findings are highly relevant in light of the recent stay-at-home orders that forced millions into isolation.
But even prior to the pandemic, public health experts had voiced their concerns about the prevalence of loneliness.
In fact, recent estimates from the health charity Age UK suggest around 1.4 million people in the UK experience loneliness regularly.
The Charity notes: “The words loneliness and social isolation are often used interchangeably, but loneliness is not the same as social isolation.
“People can be isolated yet not feel lonely. People can feel lonely and yet be surrounded by people.
“The difference between these two concepts is important for the design of services and support for older people.”
Some measures to help combat loneliness include opening up to others about how you’re feeling, staying present and reaching out.