New research shows housebound seniors are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as more active individuals, which may provide indications and clues for prevention.

Investigators at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago followed 1,294 seniors from two separate studies. None of the study subjects exhibited dementia symptoms at the beginning of either study. During an average of 4.4 years, 180 participants developed Alzheimer’s. Of this group, patients who self-reported that they never left their home environments during an average week were two times as likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those who periodically traveled out of town.

The investigators listed a caveat to their research, noting that participants living in retirement homes were still considered housebound. Even when the researchers adjusted their data for factors such as depression, gender, education and other diseases, they found the association between isolation and Alzheimer’s remained. They cautioned that there might not be a direct link, but that isolation can be a warning sign. 

“This will be particularly important when disease-modifying therapies are available, so that evaluations can be started and interventions considered before there are significant cognitive problems,” Duke University dementia expert James R. Burke, M.D., Ph.D., told HealthDay News.

The Rush University study was published online in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.