Feeling lonely can increase your risk of developing dementia, according to a new study by Dutch researchers.
The Amsterdam Study of the Elderly (Amstel) looked at the risk factors for depression, dementia and high death rates among 2,000 men and women over the age of 65.
Writing in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, the researchers found that the participants who felt lonely were more than twice as likely to develop dementia over three years as those who did not.
Loneliness was still associated with a 64 per cent increased risk of the disease even after other influential factors were taken into account, such as mental and physical health. The study authors said:
"These results suggest that feelings of loneliness independently contribute to the risk of dementia in later life.”
However, the researchers found a distinction between loneliness and being alone. They wrote:
"Interestingly, the fact that 'feeling lonely' rather than 'being alone' was associated with dementia onset suggests that it is not the objective situation, but, rather, the perceived absence of social attachments that increases the risk of cognitive decline."
The researchers, from VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam, also hypothesised that loneliness may be an effect of early dementia rather than its cause, as part of the personality changes accompanying the disease.
Feelings of loneliness might also be the mark of 'vulnerable' personality that puts certain people at higher risk of dementia.
Jessica Smith, research officer at the Alzheimer's Society, said: "More research is needed to determine whether it is a risk factor or in fact an early symptom.
“There is strong evidence to suggest that the best way to reduce your risk of dementia is by regularly exercising, eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables and not smoking."
© ActiveQuote Ltd. 2012