Loneliness May Fuel Mental Decline in Old Age

More people suffer from memory loss even at younger ages. A new study shows being lonely may fuel memory issues. This presents additional reasons to plan well before a person ages.

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Loneliness May Fuel Mental Decline in Old Age
3 Min Read September 10th, 2015 Updated:September 22nd, 2020

Recent research suggests that loneliness and depression are linked to an increased risk of mental decline in the elderly.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 8,300 American adults aged 65 and older who were assessed every two years between 1998 and 2010. Seventeen percent reported loneliness at the beginning of the study, and half of those who were lonely had depression.

Throughout the study, the mental decline was 20 percent faster among the loneliest people than those who weren't lonely. People who were depressed at the start of the study also had a faster mental decline.

Lonely People Suffer Quicker Cognitive Decline

However, lower mental function did not lead to worsening loneliness. Dr. Nancy Donovan, a geriatric psychiatrist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, suggests that even one or two depressive symptoms -- particularly loneliness -- are associated with an increased rate of cognitive decline over 12 years.

"We found that lonely people decline cognitively at a faster rate than people who report more satisfying social networks and connections. Although loneliness and depression appear closely linked, loneliness may, by itself, have effects on cognitive decline," she explained.

This is important to know for the development of treatments to enhance mental health and quality of life for older adults.

Loneliness Increases Risk 40%

Meanwhile, Florida State University scientists reviewed data on 12,030 individuals of people aged 50 and older. The research data incorporated loneliness and social isolation measures and a range of risk factors, including behavioral, clinical, and genetic.

When the researchers examined the data, the scientists saw that loneliness — as measured at the start of the study — was associated with a 40 percent higher risk of developing dementia over the 10-year follow-up period.

The link was independent of gender, education, race, and ethnicity. Another important finding was that it was also independent of social isolation.

More than 42 million Americans identify as being lonely, according to the American Psychological Association. According to a Florida State University study, people who reported feeling lonely were also more likely to have other risk factors for dementia, such as depressionhigh blood pressure, and diabetes

While this research may suggest links between loneliness, depression, and heightened mental decline risk, it did not prove cause-and-effect.

Prepare Family and Finances for Long-Term Care Before Retirement

Planning experts underscore the need to plan for the financial costs and burdens of aging. People often pay little attention to the changes in their health and body in their middle-age years. However, once they get past age 50, health, body, and mind become more progressed, and many will require long-term health care. 

Without any advance plan, family members are often placed in the role of being a caregiver. The caregiver role brings its own physical, emotional, and financial toll on that individual and their families. 

The solution for many American families is affordable Long-Term Care Insurance. It provides guaranteed tax-free resources to pay for your choice of quality care in the setting you desire. These resources allow your family the time to be family. 

The income and asset protection that a Long-Term Care Insurance policy provides also protects your lifestyle and legacy. However, policies are medically underwritten. Ideally, you should start obtaining coverage before you retire in your 40s or 50s when you still enjoy good health, and premiums are much lower. 

LTC NEWS offers many resources to help you discover the best options. Click here to find these resources. 

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About the Author

An LTC News author focusing on long-term care and aging.

LTC News Contributor James Kelly

James Kelly

Contributor since August 21st, 2017

Editor's Note

Your body, health, and mind will change in the next 20+ years. Consider the physical, emotional, and financial burdens placed on you and your loved ones as you get older.

LTC NEWS Resources Include Cost of Care Calculator

LTC NEWS offers an abundance of resources to learn about your options and decide which long-term care solution is best for you. However, these solutions are all medically underwritten, so you can't delay until you have major health problems. It would be best if you planned when you still enjoy reasonably good health. The underwriting rules vary between insurance companies. Many experts suggest starting your research in your 40s or 50s. 

Use the LTC NEWS Cost of Care Calculator and find both the current and future cost of care services where you live. Click here and see the financial impact. 

Caregiving is hard on family members, and paid care is expensive. Affordable Long-Term Care Insurance provides the tax-free resources to pay for your choice of quality care in your home or in a facility.

Use Qualified LTC Insurance Specialist

Be sure to seek the right type of professional help. Experts say to avoid using a financial advisor or general insurance agent. They often lack the experience and knowledge in policy features, underwriting, tax advantages, and other factors. Since premiums can vary by over 100% between insurance companies, you need a skilled and trusted professional.

A qualified Long-Term Care Insurance specialist will help you navigate the options and find the best coverage at the best value. Discover your trusted pro by clicking here.

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