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Living alone linked with dementia: new study

Social isolation might be a greater risk factor for dementia than previously believed.

That’s according to researchers from University College London (UCL). They found that people over age 55 who live alone are 30 per cent more likely to develop dementia than those who live with others.

Lead author Dr Roopal Desai 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.”

For the research, Desai’s team looked at 12 studies in seven countries in Europe and Asia, pulling together data from over 21,000 people aged over 55.

When looked at together, the studies revealed a significant link between living alone and dementia. The researchers said social isolation was a more important population risk factor than previously identified, with living alone associated with greater population risk than physical inactivity, hypertension, diabetes and obesity.

Senior author Dr Georgina Charlesworth said the COVID-19 pandemic has raised awareness of how difficult it can be having no choice but to live alone.

“Finding ways to keep cognitively, socially and physically active is important for our wellbeing, and to reduce dementia risk,” Charlesworth said.

“Strategies such as social prescribing, where health professionals refer people to community groups, have been disrupted in recent months, with increasing reliance on activities delivered over the internet.”

Fiona Carragher, director of research and influencing at Alzheimer’s Society in the UK, said the study brings the potential risk of social isolation into sharper focus.

“We must remember that dementia is complex, and there are many factors involved in developing the condition,” Carragher said. “There are steps we can take now to reduce our risk like keeping ourselves physically, mentally and socially active while maintaining a healthy, balanced diet and avoiding smoking.”

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