Feeling lonely could double the risk of Alzheimer's – even if you have lots of friends
Dutch researchers found a significant link between
feelings of loneliness – rather than having no friends – and the chances
of suffering from Alzheimer'sAdds to mounting evidence that feeling lonely is a unique health risk factor
07:49 GMT, 11 December 2012
Older people who feel alone are much more at risk of the degenerative brain disease (posed by model)
Lonely people are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s in later life, say researchers.
Their study revealed a significant link between feelings of solitariness – rather than having no friends – and the risk of having the degenerative brain disease.
Earlier studies have suggested social isolation or lack of personal contact carries an increased risk of dementia and mental decline.
Researchers running the Amsterdam Study of the Elderly tracked the long term health and wellbeing of more than 2,000 patients without signs of dementia.
Among those who lived alone, almost one in ten developed dementia after three years compared with one in 20 of those who lived with others.
Among those who had never married, similar proportions developed dementia as remained free from the condition, possibly because their lifestyles meant they were not the type to feel lonely.
When it came to those who said they felt lonely, more than twice as many developed dementia – 13.4 per cent compared with 5.7 per cent.
It is possible that feeling lonely is actually a signal of mental decline that in turn affects social skills, says the study published online in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.
But feelings of loneliness may also be the mark of 'vulnerable' personality or an expression of a 'frailty factor' that puts certain people at higher risk of dementia, it says.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, affecting over 800,000 Britons, with about 500 cases diagnosed every day.
One theory is that feeling lonely is actually a signal of mental decline that in turn affects social skills, say the researchers
The Amsterdam study said: '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.'
Jessica Smith, of the Alzheimer’s Society, said strong evidence suggested the best way to reduce the risks was to exercise, eat well and avoid smoking.
'As Christmas approaches, many of us are looking forward to full houses and festive parties,' she said.'However, for others it can be a time that can really heighten loneliness.'
Dr Simon Ridley of Alzheimer’s Research UK, the nation’s leading dementia research charity, said the findings could have important consequences for society.
'Age still remains the biggest risk factor for dementia, but this study links feelings of loneliness to a slightly higher risk of the condition,' he said.
'While such a finding could have important consequences for society, it is hard to determine cause and effect at this stage – feelings of loneliness could be a consequence of the early stages of dementia rather than a contributing factor.'