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Loneliness link to Alzheimer's risk

Feeling lonely can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s in later life, a study suggests.

Researchers who found the link drew a distinction between being alone and loneliness.

The Amsterdam Study of the Elderly (Amstel) looked at risk factors for depression, dementia and high death rates among 2,000 men and women aged 65 and older.

Participants who felt lonely were more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia over three years as those who did not.

When influential factors including mental and physical health were taken into account, loneliness was still associated with a 64% increased risk of the disease.

But other aspects of social isolation, such as living alone and being widowed, had no impact.

At the start of the Dutch study, 46% of participants were living alone and half were single or no longer married. About one in five, just under 20%, said they felt lonely.

The findings were reported in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.

The authors, led by Dr Tjalling Jan Holwerda, from VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam, wrote: “These results suggest that feelings of loneliness independently contribute to the risk of dementia in later life.

“Interestingly, the fact that ‘feeling lonely’ rather than ‘being alone’ was associated with dementia onset suggests that it is not the objective situation, but, rather, the perceived absence of social attachments that increases the risk of cognitive decline.”

Readers' comments (6)

  • Another good reason to get out of a bad marriage. If you feel lonely in your marriage, it's time to leave. After all, you could be risking Alzheimer's if you stay!

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  • Maybe the attitude of feeling lonely causes a chemical reaction which over time leads to Alzheimer's. I have sometimes felt lonely as a single parent. One of my parents has Alzheimer's. oh dear...

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  • That isn't the 1st time I've heard someone with children say they feel very lonely. A colleague once told me sadly "the only people I get to speak to are my children and my patients"

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  • Being a single parent can be very hard and isolating It's not easy to socialise given that you are the only parent to look after your children. Going out is never spontaneous, you have to plan everything like a military maneouvre; sometimes you are so tired you can't be bothered even if you do have the time. And when you have the time and the energy you don't have the spare cash because you've spent it all on new shoes, dinner money, food, rent etc etc. I am hopeful that being a nurse stimulates my brain enough to ward of the dreaded disease. And if anyone thinks "stop moaning there are people worse off than you" I agree. I wouldn't have it any other way, my daughter is the best present I could ever be given.

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  • “These results suggest that feelings of loneliness independently contribute to the risk of dementia in later life."

    or perhaps the people who developed a diagnosis of dementia over three years were already having difficulty establishing and maintaining relationships because of the pre-clinical effects of their developing illness.

    either Dr Tjalling Jan Holwerda is confounding a correlation with a causal relationship or nt/press association is missing the point as it reduces the word count.

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  • surely the elderly who lead active, fulfilling and rewarding lives with the stimulus of plenty of human company and meaningful activities and conversations are less likely to suffer from dementia. living alone and constantly wrapped up in one's own thoughts seems an excellent recipe for dementia. I believe that even reading, computing, electronic messaging, etc., watching TV, listening to the radio and reading the papers and carrying out household chores is good but not enough.

    People it would seem, and their human brains, need the stimulation of human interaction with sufficient opportunities to discuss and be motivated by exchanges of ideas.

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