Older woman with face mask talking on phone
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Loneliness has strong ties to long-term dementia risk in older adults, a 10-year study has found. In fact, it triples the odds of developing the condition in adults who would otherwise have low risk based on age and genetics, researchers say.

Investigators followed outcomes among more than 2,300 participants in the population-based Framingham Study. Participants had a loneliness assessment and were dementia-free at baseline. The researchers tracked development of dementia over a 10-year period, measures of cognition and brain volume and other dementia-related changes based on brain scans.

Fully 14% of participants developed dementia, and 6% were lonely. The lonely adults had significantly higher odds of developing dementia when compared with their not-lonely peers. In addition, lonely participants younger than age 80 who did not have genetic risk for dementia had a three-fold greater risk of developing the condition than the not-lonely cohort. 

In addition, lonely participants without dementia had signs of cognitive problems, including poorer executive function, lower total cerebral volume and greater brain white-matter injury than their not-lonely peers, the authors reported.

Loneliness is a common problem and its prevalence is rising, the researchers noted. “These findings may have important clinical and public health implications given observed loneliness trends,” they concluded.

The study was published in the journal Neurology.