Nearly 5.7 million Americans struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. Once you learn how loneliness affects Alzheimer’s disease, you’ll be convinced that loneliness is a disease.
Someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease every 65 seconds. It’s important to be aware of what heightens one’s risk of developing this disease: loneliness.
Here’s what you should know about Alzheimer’s Disease and loneliness:
Alzheimer’s Disease 101
What is Alzheimer’s disease? Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia. It causes problems with behavior, memory, and thinking.
Alzheimer’s disease occurs due to the generalized degeneration of the brain. This degeneration results in physical changes to the brain such as amyloid plaques and tangles.
Alzheimer’s disease also interferes with the ability of neurons to communicate with one another. This causes loss of function and cell death in the brain.
This disease accounts for the majority of dementia cases.
As the stages of Alzheimer’s progress, the symptoms get worse. For a person with Alzheimer’s disease, even the most simple tasks become nearly impossible to accomplish.
Loneliness is a Disease
Age is the biggest factor in developing Alzheimer’s disease. However, feelings of loneliness and depression increase one’s risk of developing the disease. In fact, feeling lonely can double your risk.
Feelings of loneliness generally stem from not having regular interaction with a healthy social network.
Feeling excluded and disregarded by others contributes to feelings of loneliness. This is especially dangerous if these lonely feelings persist over long periods of time.
Persistent feelings of loneliness damage one’s mental health. This can result in a another clinical diagnosis:
Loneliness contributes to depression. Depression is a mood disorder characterized by depressed mood and loss of interest in activities. Depression is linked to memory loss and can exacerbate the symptoms of aging.
There’s some evidence that suggests depression can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. A study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that compared to non-depressed adults, depressed adults are 65% more likely to get Alzheimer’s disease.
The same study also concluded that depressed adults are twice as likely to develop dementia. The lonelier you are, the more likely you are to get dementia.
It’s important to get help for depression as soon as you suspect you have it. This advice applies to all age groups. Finding a counselor and joining a support group are productive ways of fighting depression and loneliness all at once.
Your Brain On Loneliness
Whenever you feel excluded, your brain experiences those feelings as pain. This pain activates the same brain region as physical pain. Ultimately, the pain of loneliness contributes to an individual’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Loneliness affects your overall brain health. When someone feels lonely, they are experiencing isolation. When isolated from others, a person doesn’t get the interaction that promotes nerve growth in the brain.
This nerve growth in the brain is especially important for combating Alzheimer’s disease.
Loneliness also increases negative feelings like stress and anxiety. Stress and anxiety also increase the likelihood of dementia’s development.
Lonely people are more likely to experience cognitive decline. Feelings of loneliness cause physical damage to brain cells. This damage leads to cognitive decline, which contributes to the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
Loneliness also exacerbates the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Feeling lonely worsens memory loss and cognitive abilities.
Living alone doesn’t increase one’s chance of getting Alzheimer’s disease. It’s possible to live alone and have a healthy social network. It’s also possible to live with someone and still feel lonely.
Loneliness a matter of perception. Fortunately, living alone doesn’t equate to feeling lonely.
It’s feelings of loneliness that directly contribute to the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. If someone feels left out by their group of friends or family, this increases one’s sense of loneliness, thereby increasing their Alzheimer’s/dementia risk.
It’s especially important for seniors to maintain a healthy social network. Positive social interaction benefits mental health as well as physical health. It also stimulates the brain in a way that fights dementia.
Regardless of whether an elderly person lives alone or with someone, it’s crucial for them to have regular social interaction. Visiting with friends, attending events, and joining clubs all qualify as healthy social interaction.
How To Help
Changes in medication and behavior can reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation. If treated early enough, these changes can reduce the chance of Alzheimer’s disease ever developing.
Social interaction stimulates the brain. If you know an elderly person who’s lonely, make an effort to coordinate a visit with them. The interaction they’ll get from you will improve their condition.
Plan routine trips to see an elderly loved one who might be suffering from dementia. Having Alzheimer’s disease can be an isolating experience in and of itself. Having a healthy social network for support can make a positive difference in that person’s life.
If you know someone who’s struggling with loneliness and depression, recommend a counselor and doctor to them. A professional can help them improve their mental health and social life.
Show How Much You Care
Around 44 million people worldwide have Alzheimer’s or dementia. Loneliness is a disease, but fortunately, loneliness is preventable.
About 1 out of 3 seniors dies with some form of dementia. Loneliness is an epidemic that contributes to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Fighting loneliness requires cooperation and teamwork.
Are you up for the challenge?
Stay informed: Learn more about Alzheimer’s and dementia care. You’ll be relieved once you find out the truth.