[STAY IN TOUCH] Social isolation ups risk of dementia
Two studies using nationally representative data from thousands of US adults add to the evidence that social isolation is a substantial risk factor for dementia in community-dwelling older adults, and identified technology as an effective way to intervene. The studies were published in separate issues of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Collectively, the studies do not establish a direct cause and effect between dementia and social isolation, defined as lack of social contact and interactions with people on a regular basis. But, the researchers say, they strengthen observations that such isolation increases the risk of dementia, and suggest that relatively simple efforts to increase social support of older adults - such as texting and use of email - may reduce that risk.
"Social connections matter for our cognitive health, and it is potentially easily modifiable for older adults without the use of medication," said Thomas Cudjoe, MD, MPH, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the senior author of both studies
The first study followed 5,022 Medicare beneficiaries for nine years. All completed an annual two-hour, in-person interview to assess cognitive function, health status and overall well-being.
At the initial interview, 23% of participants were socially isolated and showed no signs of dementia. However, by the end of the study, 21% had developed dementia. The researchers concluded that the risk of developing dementia over nine years was 27% higher among socially isolated older adults compared with older adults who were not socially isolated.
Interventions to reduce that risk are possible, according to results of the second study. Specifically, researchers found the use of communications technology such as telephone and email lowered the risk for social isolation. More than 70% of older adults who were not socially isolated at their initial appointment had a working cellphone and/or computer, and regularly used email or texting to initiate and respond to others. Over the four-year research period for this second study, those who had access to such technology consistently showed a 31% lower risk for social isolation than the rest of the cohort.
To read the dementia risk study, click here
To read the technology study, click here
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