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The Effect of Loneliness on the Brain

By Ilse du Bernard, 9:00 am on

According to a recent study by Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, senior citizens who report a sense of loneliness are more likely to experience dementia and a worsening of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms. The Woodlands Home Care Assistance has also learned that lonely adults face a greater risk of mobility problems and disturbances of their memories.

In the study of more than 8,300 adults aged 65 and older, those who reported the greatest levels of loneliness had a 20 percent faster rate of increase in memory problems. Problems with memory were not predictive of loneliness, showing that memory problems are not necessarily the cause of feeling lonely. Past studies related to loneliness have found a 45 percent increase in the risk of early death in those who are lonely.

For senior citizens, the mental stress of feeling lonely could cause physical changes in the brain, such as inflammation. The inflammatory process could increase the risk of blood flow problems and chemical imbalances that increase the risk of conditions such as stroke. In the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease, patients may avoid some social encounters due to their risk of feeling embarrassed about forgetting important pieces of information like someone’s name or where they know that person from. This early avoidance of socializing sets the stage for increased loneliness later on.

Maintaining regular social contact is important for seniors who have memory problems. Daily visits with simple activities such as looking through photo albums can help to trigger pleasant memories of earlier times.  It’s also important that visitors be non-judgmental and simply show their support and love if an elderly relative is losing his or her memory. These visits can strengthen the memories seniors still have while at the same time lessening their feelings of loneliness.

If you’re concerned about a senior loved one’s emotional wellbeing, reach out to Home Care Assistance. In addition to helping with a number of daily activities, our caregivers can provide companionship and emotional support. To learn more about any of our care services, including dementia and Alzheimer’s care The Woodlands families trust, give us a call at 832-412-1345 and schedule a free in-home consultation.