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Feeling Lonely?

Earlier today, I read an interesting article describing the results of the Amsterdam Study of the Elderly, published in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry. It had to do with analyzing the risk of developing dementia for those individuals living by themselves in later life. And it turns out that not everyone who lives alone is at risk, but primarily those who have little social support. Many people of the Baby Boomer generation, or older, relish the freedom of living alone, enjoying their privacy after years of caring for others. However, in order to keep fit both physically and cognitively, they need to have a strong support system of friends, groups, and clubs.

Study participants who reported feeling lonely were 64% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. (It should be noted that, while older age, concomitant medical conditions,, genetic factors, and depression have previously been linked to the risk of Alzheimer’s, the effects of loneliness and social isolation have not been studied to any great extent.

In the Amsterdam Study of the Elderly (AMSTEL), the long-term health and well-being of more than 2000 people was evaluated. Participants had lived alone and independently for at least three years. At the end of this period, they were given a series of tests for the purpose of determining risk factors for depression, dementia, and death rates. Areas evaluated included physical health, and ability to complete routine daily tasks. They were also asked if they were lonely. Formal tests for the presence of dementia were also given.

At the beginning of the study period, 46% of the participants were living alone. Half were either single, with the other half being widowed. Approximately three out of four reported no social support system, and one in five stated that they felt lonely. After three years, approximately one in ten of those studied who lived alone showed signs of dementia, as opposed to one in twenty of those who lived with others. There was no significant difference found between those who had never married and those who were widowed or divorced, with regards to the development of dementia symptoms.

Of those individuals who reported feeling lonely, more than twice as many exhibited dementia symptoms than those who did not feel so. Of these persons, 70 to 80% of those who lived alone were more likely to develop dementia than those who lived with others or who were married. In the full analysis, those who reported feelings of loneliness were more than 2.5 times as likely to develop symptoms. This was true for both men and women.

Information taken from http://www.thirdage.com.

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