Care provider talking to a senior woman during home visit

A study of more than half a million people in the UK and Canada has linked social isolation to signs of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD).

The researchers examined data on more than 500,000 UK Biobank participants and 30,097 people enrolled in the Canadian Longitudinal Study of Aging. Participants were asked about loneliness, social interaction frequency and social support.

Many lifestyle factors previously associated with ADRD, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, sleep disturbance and low physical activity, were tied to loneliness and lack of social support, the data showed. In addition, participants who reported having physical and mental health conditions linked to ADRD, including cardiovascular disease, vision or hearing impairment, diabetes or depression, were more likely to have subjective and objective social isolation, the researchers found.

The results underscore the potential importance of subjective and objective social isolation in contributing to ADRD, said, Danilo Bzdok, MD, PhD, of McGill University in Canada, and colleagues. The need to attend to these factors is especially true among the elderly, and clinicians and policy makers should take note, they added. 

“Compared to other ADRD risk factors, such as ApoE4 genotype, social isolation is arguably easier to modify, and therefore particularly promising to target and alter,” they concluded.

Full findings were published in PLOS One

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