Living alone in your fifties and sixties increases the risk of getting dementia by a third, says a study.
Loneliness and social isolation have a much greater impact on the condition than previously thought, according to research at University College London.
Data from 21,666 over-55s showed that those living alone were 30 per cent more likely to get Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, potentially a bigger factor than physical inactivity, diabetes, obesity or high blood pressure.
The authors warned that as growing numbers of older people live alone dementia levels may rise. There are already 850,000 UK sufferers, and it is the country’s biggest cause of death.
Researchers at University College London have found that the risk of Dementia and Alzheimers can be up to 30 percent higher among those living alone in their 50s and 60s (stock image)
Lead author Dr Roopal Desai said: ‘It might be because people who live alone experience more loneliness or more stress… or it may be due to a lack of cognitive stimulation, which is needed to maintain neural connections.’
Researchers combined results of 12 existing studies across seven countries in Europe and Asia. They concluded that if social isolation were eliminated entirely it would cause an 8.9 per cent fall in the number of dementia cases.
Senior author Dr Georgina Charlesworth said: ‘Finding ways to keep cognitively, socially and physically active is important for our wellbeing, and to reduce dementia risk.’
Previous studies have found that having an active social life and seeing friends or family every day helps to slash the risk of dementia.
Strategies such as social prescribing, where people are referred to community groups, have lately been disrupted by the virus lockdown.
The lead researcher of the study at UCL Dr Roopal Desai said that loneliness, stress and a lack of cognitive stimulation could all be factors in the increased risk (file photo)
Fiona Carragher of the Alzheimer’s Society, which funded the study said: ‘Research like this is critical to understanding how we may be able to reduce the risk of developing dementia.
There are steps we can take now to reduce our risk, like keeping ourselves physically, mentally and socially active while maintaining a healthy, balanced diet and avoiding smoking.’
Caroline Abrahams of Age UK added: ‘The last few months of lockdown and shielding have been particularly hard for older people, especially those who live on their own. We going to have to do a lot more to enable them to live safely and well among us. This is all the more true of people ageing with dementia.’