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Being LONELY during midlife can increase your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s later in life

Being LONELY during midlife can increase your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s later in life, study warns

  • Scientists examined data from cognitively ‘normal’ adults in the US
  • Those who were persistently lonely aged 45-64 more likely to develop dementia
  • However, people who only temporarily lonely were at lower risk 
  • While the reason for the findings remains unclear, the researchers hope their research will help to tailor interventions to prevent loneliness 

Being persistently lonely during midlife can increase your risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s later in life, a new study has revealed.

Researchers studied older people in the US to understand whether they felt persistently lonely between the ages of 45 and 64.

Their analysis revealed that those who did feel lonely in midlife were more likely to go on to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s.

However, people who recovered from loneliness appear to be even less likely to suffer from dementia than those who were never lonely.

While the reason for the findings remains unclear, the researchers hope their research will help to tailor interventions to prevent loneliness.

Being persistently lonely during midlife can increase your risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s later in life, a new study has revealed

Loneliness in the UK 

In 2018, a report by Age UK found that the number of over-50s suffering from loneliness is set to reach two million by 2025/6.  

This compares to around 1.4 million in 2016/7 – a 49 per cent increase in 10 years. 

Age UK’s Charity Director, Caroline Abrahams, said: ‘Our population is ageing quite fast and so we’re heading towards having two million lonely over-50s in less than a decade, with serious knock on consequences for their physical and mental health, and therefore for the NHS, unless we take action now.’

Source: Age UK 

Loneliness is currently not listed as a clinical disease, yet research has shown that it is linked to a range of negative health outcomes, including sleep issues, depression and even stroke.

In the study, researchers from Boston University set out to understand whether loneliness could also affect people’s risk of neurodegenerative diseases, including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

The team examined data from cognitively ‘normal’ adults from the Framingham Heart Study, which has been recruiting participants since 1948.

Specifically, the team investigated whether persistent loneliness more strongly predicted the future development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease than transient loneliness.

Several other factors were also taken in to account, including age, sex, education, social network, living alone, physical health and genetic risk.

The findings revealed that people who were persistently lonely were at higher risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease 18 years later.

However, people who were only lonely for a short period of time were actually at a lower risk for developing either condition.

Dr Wendy Qiu, professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at Boston University, and corresponding author of the study, explained: ‘Whereas persistent loneliness is a threat to brain health, psychological resilience following adverse life experiences may explain why transient loneliness is protective in the context of dementia onset.’

The researchers hope the findings will raise hope for people who may suffer from loneliness amid the Covid-19 pandemic, but believe could overcome this feeling when lockdown is eased.

While the reason for the findings remains unclear, they raise concerns for the millions of Brits who admit to being lonely.

The researchers hope the findings will raise hope for people who may suffer from loneliness amid the Covid-19 pandemic, but believe could overcome this feeling when lockdown is eased (stock image)

The researchers hope the findings will raise hope for people who may suffer from loneliness amid the Covid-19 pandemic, but believe could overcome this feeling when lockdown is eased (stock image)

In 2018, a report by Age UK found that the number of over-50s suffering from loneliness is set to reach two million by 2025/6.  

This compares to around 1.4 million in 2016/7 – a 49 per cent increase in 10 years. 

Age UK’s Charity Director, Caroline Abrahams, said: ‘Our population is ageing quite fast and so we’re heading towards having two million lonely over-50s in less than a decade, with serious knock on consequences for their physical and mental health, and therefore for the NHS, unless we take action now.’

WHAT IS DEMENTIA? THE KILLER DISEASE THAT ROBS SUFFERERS OF THEIR MEMORIES

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of neurological disorders

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of neurological disorders

A GLOBAL CONCERN 

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders (those affecting the brain) which impact memory, thinking and behaviour. 

There are many different types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.

Some people may have a combination of types of dementia.

Regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience their dementia in their own unique way.

Dementia is a global concern but it is most often seen in wealthier countries, where people are likely to live into very old age.

HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE AFFECTED?

The Alzheimer’s Society reports there are more than 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK today, of which more than 500,000 have Alzheimer’s.

It is estimated that the number of people living with dementia in the UK by 2025 will rise to over 1 million.

In the US, it’s estimated there are 5.5 million Alzheimer’s sufferers. A similar percentage rise is expected in the coming years.

As a person’s age increases, so does the risk of them developing dementia.

Rates of diagnosis are improving but many people with dementia are thought to still be undiagnosed.

IS THERE A CURE?

Currently there is no cure for dementia.

But new drugs can slow down its progression and the earlier it is spotted the more effective treatments are.

Source: Alzheimer’s Society 



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