Risk of Dementia Increases When You are Lonely - Study

Social isolation is one of several reasons why older people are lonely. A study shows that loneliness increases the risk of dementia, one of the leading causes of long-term health care.

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Risk of Dementia Increases When You are Lonely - Study
6 Min Read February 15th, 2022

There appears to be a notable link between loneliness and the risk of dementia, according to an NYU research study. Social isolation has increased, especially for older people due to COVID-19, an expected three-fold increase for developing dementia should concern American families. 

In the study published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, researchers found a three-fold increase in the risk of subsequent dementia among lonely Americans younger than 80 years old who would otherwise be expected to have a relatively low risk based on age and genetic risk factors. 

The study also found that loneliness was associated with poorer executive function (i.e., a group of cognitive processes including decision-making, planning, cognitive flexibility, and control of attention) and changes in the brain that indicate vulnerability to Alzheimer's disease and related dementias.

6.2 Million Adults Have Dementia - More in the Future

Dementia affects more than 6.2 million adults in the United States, according to a 2021 special report by the Alzheimer's Association. Since the beginning of the virus crisis, feelings of loneliness have affected an estimated 46 million Americans, and more frequent feelings of loneliness were found in adults aged 60 and older.

Dementia is one of the significant reasons people require long-term health care services and supervision. The cost of long-term health care services significantly impacts the care recipient's finances since health insurance, including Medicare (including supplements), will not pay for most long-term cares services).

Medicaid will only pay for long-term care, including dementia care, if the care recipient has little or no income or assets. Long-Term Care Insurance will pay for this type of care but can only be obtained when a person has relatively good health, so attempting to purchase a policy following a diagnosis of dementia would be too late.

Family Caregivers Face Burdens

Adult children often find themselves in the position of becoming caregivers when their parents failed to plan in advance of declining health. Family caregivers face stress and anxiety in addition to the physical demands of being a caregiver. 

People with dementia will often need both supervision and help with daily living activities, and the need for care can last for years depending on other health issues that they may suffer from.  

Supportive Relationships Critical for Overall Health

Families should be careful to notice an older loved one's loneliness as it can significantly affect their health.

"This study emphasizes the importance of loneliness and issues of social connection in addressing our risk of developing dementia as we age," says lead investigator Joel Salinas, MD, MBA, MSc, the Lulu P. and David J. Levidow Assistant Professor of Neurology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and member of the Department of Neurology's Center for Cognitive Neurology

"Acknowledging signs of loneliness in yourself and others, building and maintaining supportive relationships, providing much-needed support for the people in our lives who are feeling lonely—these are important for everyone. But they're especially important as we age to increase the chances that we'll delay or perhaps even prevent cognitive decline," they said.

While it can be challenging to see older family members regularly, being in touch with them can improve their mood and health.

Joel Salinas, MD, MBA, MSc

Joel Salinas, MD, MBA, MSc

"This study is a reminder that, if we want to prioritize brain health, we can't ignore the role of psychosocial factors like loneliness and the social environments we live in day-to-day," says Dr. Salinas. 

Salinas says the best way to care for ourselves and the people we love is to stay in touch with them and check in to see how they are doing—to acknowledge and be acknowledged."

"We can share with each other when we're feeling lonely, appreciate with each other how loneliness is common, and accept that giving and asking for support can be hard. Fortunately, loneliness can be cured. And although we might need to be vulnerable and creative in figuring out new ways to connect, chances are that even the smallest gesture will have been worth it," added Dr. Salinas.

Ways to Address Loneliness

There are several ways older people can deal with loneliness. Pets, for example, are great companions, according to experts. Help them select the right pet depending on their age and health.

Many older people use today's technology to stay connected, including social media like Facebook. Frequent phone calls may be one of the easiest ways to keep an older family member engaged and connected. If they can use a smartphone, video calls can even be more helpful.

Encourage older family members to stay physically and mentally active. Exercise like walking, swimming, gardening, and yoga can be very beneficial. Mental exercise should also be encouraged. Reading keeps the mind active, and book clubs will encourage interaction. 

Signs and Symptoms of Dementia 

There are several signs and symptoms of dementia that you should watch for with older family members. These psychological changes are common:

  • Agitation  
  • Anxiety  
  • Apathy 
  • Changes in personality and behavior  
  • Depression  
  • Hallucinations  
  • Mood swings  

General symptoms, in addition to memory loss noticeable by friends and family, include:     

  • Confusion and disorientation  
  • Inability to complete complex tasks  
  • Inability to find the right word  
  • Problems with coordination and motor functions  
  • Reduced visual perception  
  • Metallic taste in the mouth 
  • Decreased sense of smell  
  • Reduced ability to organize, plan, reason, or solve problems    

Preparing for Long-Term Care Key Part of Retirement Planning

Being prepared for aging the consequences long-term care can have on your family and finances will ease the stress on your family when you get older. 

Long-term health care services are expensive and are getting more expensive due to increasing demand for care and higher labor costs. These costs vary depending on where you live and the type of care services you require.

LTC New Cost of Care Map

The LTC NEWS Cost of Care Calculator shows the national average cost of a nursing home is now over $100,000 a year, with home care, adult day care, and assisted living costing a bit less. Find the current and future cost of long-term health care where you live - Cost of Care Calculator - Choose Your State | LTC News.

Many people include Long-Term Care Insurance as part of their retirement planning. Having insurance will not prevent you from becoming lonely and needing long-term care, but it will ensure you have quality care while protecting income and assets and easing family stress and anxiety.

Most people obtain coverage in their 50s when premiums are lower, allowing them to consider the most options.

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About the Author

Linda is a freelance writer interested in retirement planning, health and aging.

LTC News Contributor Linda Kople

Linda Kople

Contributor since October 31st, 2017

Editor's Note

Being prepared for declining health and the consequences of aging should be a crucial part of your overall retirement plan. People need long-term care services due to an illness, accident, or the impact of aging. Health insurance and Medicare (including supplements) will not pay for most of these costs.

Family caregivers find it hard to juggle their careers and family responsibilities with that of a caregiver for an older parent. The burden is something most people have said in surveys that they don't want to place on their family.

The solution is affordable Long-Term Care Insurance. LTC Insurance provides guaranteed tax-free benefits to access your choice of quality care options, including care at home. You will protect your income and assets and reduce the stress and anxiety otherwise placed on loved ones.

Planning Tools and Resources on LTC NEWS

You can find many tools and resources on LTC NEWS to assist you in your research for a planning solution or help your family find the appropriate care for a loved one at the time of crisis. 

To help you plan the costs and burdens of changing health and aging, LTC NEWS has put in place several resources, including:

Find all the resources on LTC NEWS - Resources for Long-Term Care Planning | LTC News.

Seek Professional Guidance

Insurance rates are regulated, so no insurance agent, agency, or financial advisor can give you special deals. However, insurance companies' premiums vary over 100% for the same coverage.

Experts suggest using a qualified Long-Term Care Insurance specialist to help you navigate the many options available to you and your family.

A specialist who works with the top companies can match your age, health, family history, and other factors and find you the best coverage at the best value. A specialist will save you money, and you will have peace of mind knowing they are making the appropriate recommendations - Work With a Specialist | LTC News.

Finding Quality Care for Mom or Dad

Start by reading our four guides -  

If they are lucky enough to own a Long-Term Care Insurance policy, be sure they use it. Sometimes families wait, thinking they can save the benefits for a rainy day. Waiting on using available Long-Term Care Insurance benefits is not a wise idea. 

Get Help in Filing a Long-Term Care Insurance Claim

Quality care obtained early will help provide a better quality of life and reduce the risk of a deep decline and facility care. If you need help in starting the process of a Long-Term Care Insurance claim, LTC NEWS can help.

LTC NEWS provides free assistance with no obligation to help you or a loved one complete the claims process with a Long-Term Care Insurance policy. We have teamed up with Amada Senior Care, who will do all the work, free with no obligation. 

You can also get support in finding quality caregivers and get recommendations for a proper care plan, whether a person has a policy or not. - Filing a Long-Term Care Insurance Claim | LTC News

Benefits of Reverse Mortgages 

Today's reverse mortgages for those aged 62 and older could be an ideal resource to fund a Long-Term Care Insurance policy OR even provide money to pay for care if you, or a loved one, already needs help and assistance.  

Some people have much of their savings invested in their homes. With today's reverse mortgages, you can find ways to fund care solutions, care itself, even help with cash flow during your retirement. 

Learn more by asking questions to an expert. LTC NEWS columnist and host of the TV Show "62 Who Knew" will answer your questions regarding caregiving, aging, health, retirement planning, long-term care, and reverse mortgages. 

- Just "Ask Mike." - Reverse Mortgages | LTC News.

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You can write a story or ongoing column for LTC NEWS. You can write about many topics, including aging, caregiving, health, lifestyle, retirement planning, and long-term care, to name a few.

Be sure to write for our core target audience of adults aged 40 and older. Our audience is worldwide; however, our primary target is the United States, Canada, Australia , the United Kingdom, and other English-speaking nations. 

Improve your website or blog's SEO and gain exposure and traffic at the same time by being a contributor to LTC NEWS. 

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Email your story idea or article: newsroom@ltcnews.com - LTC News Contributors | LTC News

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Include LTC NEWS in your press release distribution. If your group, organization, business, political committee, etc., have news to share, send it to LTC NEWS. Email - newsroom@ltcnews.com  

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