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Loneliness Linked To Alzheimer’s Disease Risk – Study February 5, 2007

Posted by notapundit in US News.
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WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)–Lonely people could be more likely to develop dementia or the type of cognitive decline commonly associated with Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study released Monday.

Researchers, led by Rush University in Chicago, looked at 823 older people who were free of dementia at the study start and annually assessed their level of loneliness for up to four years to determine if it had any impact on the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Individuals in the group had an average age of 80.3 years when the study began. Data were collected from November 2000 through May 2006.

Overall, those who ranked the highest on a loneliness scale were twice as likely to develop the type of dementia associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia refers to people who have lost memory, have trouble thinking and caring for themselves. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. The findings are published in the February issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.

Loneliness was measured on a scale of one to five, with higher scores indicating more loneliness. During the first exam, the average loneliness score of participants was 2.3. Those in the highest quintile of loneliness, or a score of 3.2, were 2.1 times more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease over the study period as those with low scores, or 1.4. During the study period, 76 individuals developed dementia that met criteria for Alzheimer’s disease.

One of the researchers, Robert S. Wilson, explained that a clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can differ from a pathological diagnosis in that an autopsy of the brain is performed after death to see if there are actual signs of the disease such as plaques and tangles in the brain. Participants in loneliness study are part of a broader National Institutes of Health-funded study on aging.

Wilson also said loneliness differs from social isolation in that people feel alone whether they are actually alone or not.
Researchers noted that the level of loneliness didn’t vary much during the study.

While it might be tough to find ways to make people feel less lonely, Wilson said, the findings suggest another mechanism in the brain or the body might be responsible for, or contribute to, the development of Alzheimer’s disease than what is currently known. That could open up new areas for research, he said.

Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive brain disorder that gradually destroys a person’s memory, thinking and ability to carry out daily activities, affects an estimated 4.5 million Americans, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

The study was funded by grants from the National Institute on Aging, a unit of the National Institutes of Health and the Illinois Department of Public Health.

By Jennifer Corbett Dooren, Dow Jones Newswires

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