Loneliness and Dementia

The article on which the immediately preceding healthy memory post was based, by Fredrick Kunkle of the Washington Post (July 21, Section A, “Too much TV could raise the risk of Alzheimer’s,” ) also reported a study on how loneliness can increase the likelihood of dementia.  This study was done by Nancy C. Donovan, an associate psychiatrist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.  Donovan and her team traced 8311 adults in the U.S. Healthy and Retirement Study from 1998 to 2010.  The research participants were 65 and older and were given biennial assessments of their perception of loneliness using a questionnaire.  The researchers examined the participants’ cognitive performance and factored in their health status, sociodemographic status and social network characteristics.

The researchers found that the loneliest people, about 17% of the participants, experienced the most accelerated decline in cognitive performance.  The scores of these people fell 20% faster than those who did not report being lonely.  Donovan concluded that “loneliness is a form of suffering in older people that is prevalent but undetected and untreated in medical practice.  Second, loneliness has consequences.  Our work work shows that loneliness, like depression, is associated with accelerated cognitive decline in older Americans.  The finding is important because it opens up new approaches for preventing and treating Alzheimer’s Disease.”

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