The Daily Telegraph

Lonely people face a far greater risk of dementia

- By Phoebe Southworth

ERADICATIN­G loneliness would cut dementia cases by 9 per cent, a study has found, as scientists said it is a bigger risk factor for developing the disease than either obesity or diabetes.

People aged over 55 who live by themselves are 30 per cent more likely to develop the condition than those who live with others, researcher­s at University College London found.

Following an analysis of 12 studies in seven European and Asian countries involving 21,666 people aged over 55, they estimated that dementia cases in the over-65s could be reduced by almost 9 per cent if social isolation was eliminated entirely.

This would make loneliness a greater risk factor for developing dementia than physical inactivity, hypertensi­on, diabetes or obesity – and a far more important factor than previously thought.

Dr Roopal Desai, from UCL’S division of psychology and language sciences, said: “More and more people are living alone, particular­ly older people, and some studies have also suggested that increasing numbers of people are experienci­ng loneliness in countries such as the UK.

“Our findings suggest that low social contact could have serious implicatio­ns for dementia rates, especially as dementia rates are already rising due to ageing population­s.

“It might be because people who live alone experience more loneliness or more stress, both of which can have adverse physical health effects. Or it may be due to a lack of cognitive stimulatio­n, which is needed to maintain neural connection­s.”

Helping lonely people access community support could be a solution, the scientists said. They caution that living

‘It may be due to a lack of cognitive stimulatio­n, which is needed to maintain neural connection­s’

alone in itself may not be a risk factor, as some people seek solitude by choice.

Fiona Carragher, director of research and influencin­g at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “We’ve known for some time that lack of social contact can play a role in our risk of developing dementia later in life.

“At a time when people have been socially isolated during the pandemic, this research, funded by Alzheimer’s Society, brings this potential risk into sharper focus.”

The analysis was published in the journal Ageing Research Reviews.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom