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Social isolation linked to increased risk of dementia, new study suggests

Social isolation linked to increased risk of dementia, new study suggests
A new study has found that older people who have fewer social connections and interactions are at a higher risk of developing dementia. (Charles Holder via AP)

Socially isolated older adults are 27% more likely to develop dementia than older adults who are not, A new study by Johns Hopkins researchers found,

“Social connections matter to our cognitive health, and this is potentially easily modifiable for older adults without the use of medication,” Dr. Thomas Cudjoe, assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins and a senior author of the study. said in a news release,

Published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, the study tracked 5,022 dementia-free US adults who were 65 or older — with an average age of 76 — and were not living in a residential care facility. About 23% of participants were socially isolated.

Social isolation is defined as having few relationships and regular interactions with few people. The study measured this based on whether participants lived alone, talked with two or more people about “important matters” in the past year, attended religious services or attended social events. Participants were given a score for each item, and those who scored zero or one were socially isolated.

Over the course of nine years, the researchers periodically administered cognitive tests. Overall, about 21% of study participants developed dementia. But of those who were socially isolated, around 26% developed dementia – compared to slightly less than 20% for those who were not socially isolated.

The study found no significant differences based on race or ethnicity. However, more than 70% of participants in the study were white — with a notably small sample size of Hispanic, Asian and Native participants — and the authors call for further research on this topic.

Social isolation was previously known to be a dementia risk factor and has been linked to other serious health conditions such as heart disease and depression. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

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About 5.8 million people in the US have Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia. According to the CDC,

social connections can be improve quality of life For patients suffering from dementia and slowing down its progression.

a Second study using related data found that access to technology such as cell phones can prevent social isolation among older adults.

“This is encouraging because it means that simple interventions may be worthwhile,” Mfon Umoh, a postdoctoral fellow in geriatric medicine at Johns Hopkins, said in a news release.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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