Study finds loneliness in old age may help trigger Alzheimer's
FEELING lonely may help to trigger Alzheimer's disease in later life, new research suggests.
Scientists found that lonely individuals were twice as likely to develop the degenerative brain disease as people who experienced little loneliness.
Previous studies associated social isolation or lack of personal contact with an increased risk of dementia and mental decline. But being alone is not the same as feeling lonely.
The new research found a significant link between feelings of loneliness - the emotional impact of solitude - and the chances of suffering from Alzheimer's.
A team led by Dr Robert Wilson, from Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago, studied 823 elderly adults over a four-year period. Those taking part in the research had an average age of more than 80.
Loneliness was measured on a scale of one to five, with higher scores indicating a greater depth of feeling. At the start of the investigation, the average loneliness score was 2.3.
During the study period 76 individuals developed dementia that met the criteria of Alzheimer's disease.
The risk of developing Alzheimer's rose by about 51 per cent for each extra point scored on the loneliness scale. A person with a loneliness rating of 3.2 had twice the Alzheimer's risk of someone with a low score of 1.4.
"Humans are very social creatures," said Dr Wilson, whose research is published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.
"We need healthy interactions with others to maintain our health. The results of our study suggest that people who are persistently lonely may be more vulnerable to the deleterious effects of age-related neuropathology."
Dr Wilson said more work was needed on how negative emotions affected the brain.
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