As we age, the fear of dementia and Alzheimer’s grows as our likelihood of suffering from it increases. Seniors read, do crossword puzzles, and play brain games to keep their mind sharp to ward off any cognitive problems.
Another great fear many of us have about growing older is being cut off from the family that we cherish. When we age we may have to relocate in order to live safely, and relocating to nursing home may mean seeing our children and grandchildren less often. Unfortunately, these two fears are more connected than ever before, as new research finds.
We have discussed before that seniors suffering from loneliness are at higher risk of developing dementia as they drift from meaningful social relationships. Living alone doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll feel lonely. The emotion of feeling loneliness, not the act of being on one’s own, is seen as a major contributing factor to degenerating cognitive abilities.
Now, it seems that loneliness and dementia are more interconnected than previously thought. Loneliness doesn’t merely cause dementia. In some cases, the proteins that are present in people that develop dementia can make someone feel the emotion of loneliness.
Seniors with high levels of amyloid are much more likely to feel lonely than seniors with low levels of the protein in their bloodstream. Amyloid is a specific protein fragment that is associated with the development of Alzheimer’s. “For people who have high levels of amyloid -- the people truly at high risk for Alzheimer's -- they were 7.5 times more likely to be lonely than non-lonely,” noted Dr. Nancy Donovan, the lead researcher of the new study.
Donovan is the Director for the Center of Alzheimer Research and Treatment at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. She suggested that this link might help health providers recognize signs of early-stage dementia. By paying closer attention to a patient’s emotional health, Donovan argues, physicians can better screen for Alzheimer’s early on.
Loneliness is an undisputed Alzheimer’s risk factor, and with this newfound information seniors and their families can more easily pinpoint signs of dementia as they begin to show. If you take into account your entire social network, you’ll find that you may have more friends and family that visit and talk to you regularly than you realize.
If you feel lonely or socially detached even when you see and talk to your family and friends, try to overcome the initial discomfort and say something to your loved one or to your care provider. Communicating your feelings is important; if you feel lonely, your doctor can run tests earlier than ever to try to detect signs of dementia.
Another step in fighting dementia is to stay connected to a wide group of family members and friends so you’re constantly engaged. If your family lives in another city, schedule regular video chats and connect with them on the GrandPad from the comfort of your recliner. Your family members can also share photos with you so you are a part of their daily lives. Steps like these are paramount for anyone wishing to combat the onset of dementia.
We know that loneliness is disheartening, and even scary. But speak up and say something to those you trust if you feel socially isolated. Nothing is as scary when you have family on your side.