Image of Takashi Amano, Ph.D.; Image credit: Rutgers University
Takashi Amano, Ph.D.; Image credit: Rutgers University

Early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and related dementias may be critical for giving patients time to prepare for the future and in some cases work against further decline. However, a new study suggests it may also have a negative effect on social engagement.

The researchers examined data from the Health and Retirement Study, tracking older adults who received dementia diagnoses in 2012, 2014 and 2016. The adults’ social relationships were compared to those of peers who did not receive such a diagnosis.

Receipt of a diagnosis was linked to reduced informal and formal social engagement, according to Takashi Amano, Ph.D., of Rutgers University, NJ. This included reduced time talking on the phone, face-to-face contact and attending sports and other social events. There were no statistically significant impacts of receiving a diagnosis on social networks and social support, however.

Practitioners and policymakers should be aware of this potential loss of engagement along with other risks, such as suicide, especially with earlier diagnoses, Amano and colleagues wrote. 

“Social relationships are an essential feature of our quality of life and can buffer against cognitive decline,” wrote coauthor Addam Reynolds, a doctoral candidate at Rutgers. “Given the lack of a cure of these diseases, we must focus on ways people can maintain or improve their quality of life after receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.”

Clinicians “should identify strategies to alleviate the negative impact of receiving a diagnosis of ADRD and methods to mobilize support networks,” the authors concluded. It may be especially important to promote informal social engagement such as face-to-face and telephone contact, which is more accessible than formal social engagement, they suggested.

The study was published in the journal Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders.