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Persistent loneliness during midlife could lead to Dementia and Alzheimer – study warns

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Manish Saini
Manish works as a Journalist and writer at Revyuh.com. He has studied Political Science and graduated from Delhi University. He is a Political engineer, fascinated by politics, and traditional businesses. He is also attached to many NGO's in the country and helping poor children to get the basic education. Email: Manish (at) revyuh (dot) com

Adults, who have been persistently lonely during their midlife, between the ages of 45 and 64, are more likely to increase the risk of developing dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease, a new research paper published in the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia revealed.

However, adults who have recovered from loneliness appear to be even less likely to experience dementia than those who were never lonely.

Loneliness is currently not recognized as a clinical disease, yet research has shown its connection to sleep issues, depression, and even stroke.

To carry out the study, the team from Boston University examined 2,880 volunteers between the ages of 45 to 64 in the Framingham Heart Study, an ongoing study of heart disease risk, working since 1948.

Several other factors were also taken in to account, including age, sex, education, social network, living alone, physical health and genetic risk.

Among the participants, 74% reported no loneliness and 8% reported “transient loneliness”, just over 8% reported “incident loneliness”, and 9% of the participants said that they felt persistent loneliness.

Of the 2,880 study volunteers, 218, or nearly 8%, developed dementia during 20 years of follow-up, and more than 80% of them were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Among those who reported no feelings of loneliness, 7% developed dementia and 6% were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

However, of those who reported persistent loneliness, 13% developed dementia and 11% were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

“People in this age group should realize the existence of the risk and prepare to face mid-life challenges,” Dr Wendy Qiu, professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at Boston University, and corresponding author of the study said.

“As a society, we can do things to intervene in loneliness, like providing counseling and reaching out to those who are facing life stressors or grieving,” she said.

“Whereas persistent loneliness is a threat to brain health, psychological resilience following adverse life experiences may explain why transient loneliness is protective in the context of dementia onset.”

The researchers hope the findings will raise hope for people who may suffer from loneliness amid the Covid-19 pandemic, but believe could overcome this feeling when lockdown is eased.

While the reason for the findings still remains unclear, they raise concerns for the millions of people around the world who admit to being lonely.

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