Giving Compass' Take:
- Research indicates that social isolation is a risk factor for dementia in older adults, but technology could be a potential way to help.
- How can this research contribute to solutions for adults who are at risk of getting dementia? What can donors do to further support dementia research?
- Learn about the dementia care system.
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Two new studies add to the evidence that social isolation is a substantial risk factor for dementia in community-dwelling older adults, new research shows.
The research also identifies technology as an effective way to intervene.
Collectively, the studies don’t 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, the studies 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.
In the United States, an estimated 1 in 4 people over age 65 experience social isolation, according to the National Institute on Aging.
“Social connections matter for our cognitive health, and it is potentially easily modifiable for older adults without the use of medication,” says Thomas Cudjoe, assistant professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and senior author of both of the new studies.
The first study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, used data collected on a group of 5,022 Medicare beneficiaries for a long-term study known as the National Health and Aging Trends, which began in 2011. All participants were 65 or older, and were asked to complete an annual two-hour, in-person interview to assess cognitive function, health status, and overall well-being.
At the initial interview, 23% of the 5,022 participants were socially isolated and showed no signs of dementia. However, by the end of this nine-year study, 21% of the total sample of participants had developed dementia. The researchers concluded that risk of developing dementia over nine years was 27% higher among socially isolated older adults compared with older adults who were not socially isolated.
“Socially isolated older adults have smaller social networks, live alone, and have limited participation in social activities,” says Alison Huang, senior research associate at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “One possible explanation is that having fewer opportunities to socialize with others decreases cognitive engagement as well, potentially contributing to increased risk of dementia.”
Read the full article about dementia by Kristen Crocker at Futurity .