People who feel lonely are at higher risk of developing dementia. This is one of the main conclusions reached by a study conducted by researchers at the Autonomous University of Madrid after analyzing the data of more than 20,000 people.
As a result of population aging and estimated increase of population with dementia in the coming decades, current research is focusing its efforts on identifying modifiable risk factors that could prevent or delay the onset of this disease. One of these factors, the experts point out, could be unwanted loneliness, which has previously been linked to worse health, depression and even premature mortality.
A group from the Department of Psychiatry of the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM), which is a collaborating center of the World Health Organization (WHO) and is part of the Center for Biomedical Research in Network for Mental Health (CIBERSAM), has carried out a rigorous review of the studies published to date on the longitudinal association between unwanted loneliness and dementia.
The work, published in the journal Ageing Research Reviews, analysed more than 2,500 articles related to the subject and evaluated the results and methodological quality of eight studies. “These studies included 21,525 participants over 65 years of age from America, Asia and Europe. None of these individuals had dementia at the beginning of the study. The results showed that unwanted loneliness is associated with an increased risk of dementia,” the authors say.
In addition, the researchers argue, this association is independent to the presence of depression. “The influence of unwanted loneliness on the risk of developing dementia appears to be statistically comparable to the effect of other recognized risk factors such as diabetes or physical inactivity,” the authors add.
“Although this work has been carried out following a robust methodology, the results have to be interpreted with caution due to the limited number of included studies,” indicates the first signatory of the work, Elvira Lara.
The work concludes that understanding the harmful effect of unwanted loneliness in dementia can serve to design environmental, psychological and social interventions that could delay or perhaps prevent the onset of dementia.