Study Finds that Social Isolation Increases the Risk of Dementia in Older Adults

Study Finds that Social Isolation Increases the Risk of Dementia in Older Adults

According to some new studies, social isolation is a significant risk factor for dementia in elderly people.

At the same time, the research that adds to other data supporting the same conclusion, also comes with a potential solution in the form of staying in touch with loved ones using methods such as texting and emailing.

The pair of studies recently published do not prove dementia is a direct result of no social contact but the research team stressed that isolation clearly increases the risk.

That being said, they also mentioned that reducing that risk is rather simple, the problem being remedied by just increasing social support in any way.

The statistics say that 1 in 4 United States citizens over the age of 65 is isolated.

Senior author of the two studies, Dr. Thomas Cudjoe, explained that “Social connections matter for cognitive health, and it’s potentially easily modifiable for older adults without the use of medication.”

The first study used data gathered from over 5,000 Medicare beneficiaries as part of a long term study of aging and health that started back in 2011.

The participants were required to complete a 2 hour, in person interview every year, in order to assess their health status, mental functions and well being in general.

Around 23 percent of them reported social isolation in the very beginning and showed no signs of dementia.

9 years into the study, 21 percent of them had developed dementia, the risk of it being 27 percent higher amongst those socially isolated.

Alison Huang, the study’s co-author, noted that “Socially isolated older adults have smaller social networks, they live alone and have limited participation in different social activities. One possible explanation is that fewer opportunities to socialize with others decrease cognitive engagement as well, potentially contributing to increased risk of dementia.”

The second study found that communications technology is able to lower this risk.

More precisely, using the same data, they learned that 70 percent of older adults who weren’t socially isolated at the start of the study benefited from a working computer and/or phone and they used texting and emailing regularly in order to keep in touch with their loved ones.

They registered a 31 percent lower risk of social isolation when compared to the others.

The technology study’s leader, Dr. Mfon Umoh, shared that “This study shows that access and use of simple technologies are important factors that protect older adults against social isolation, which is linked to significant health risks. This is encouraging, since it means simple interventions can be meaningful.”

Katherine Baldwin

Katherine is just getting her start as a journalist. She attended a technical school while still in high school where she learned a variety of skills, from photography to nutrition. Her enthusiasm for both natural and human sciences is real so she particularly enjoys covering topics on medicine and the environment.

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