A 4 year study completed at Rush University, Chicago shows that lonely elderly are more than two times likely to develop dementia than those who are not lonely. Older adults with a good social network, who were frequently involved in social activity, and were mentally stimulated demonstrated less risk for dementia.
Loneliness was associated with more rapid decline in overall cognition, memory, perceptual speed and visuospatial ability. Staying mentally and physically active are keys to beating both loneliness and decreasing the risk of dementia. One recent large group study found that staying mentally active reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia by nearly half by building and maintaining a reserve of stimulation.It is a case of “using it, not losing it.” Another study found that older people who exercise three or more times a week had a 30 to 40 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. Even light activity, such as walking, seemed to help.
Many families struggle with the best way to reduce social isolation, loneliness, and mental and physical stagnation for their elderly family members. Environmental barriers can be obstacles to overcoming social isolation. Attending a senior center or becoming involved in a senior club can provide activities such as exercise, meals, games, and trips. Libraries, book stores offering book clubs and quilting groups are just a few of the possible choices that can improve a person’s mental and physical health inexpensively.
Elderly family members who are physically unable to participate in a public venue because of decreased function can certainly benefit from visits from church members, adult day centers, and non-medical home care providers. The visits must focus on the interests of the individual. As such, a history of the elderly person’s interests and lifelong hobbies is important to putting together a worthwhile and meaningful plan to decrease loneliness and stimulate interest in life’s rewards.