Don’t use it, lose it. This old saying applies to so many areas of life, but also your mental capacity. You need to stimulate your brain in order to protect your cognitive ability from the horrors of aging. And you know what stimulates brain? Human contact – a new UCL-lead study showed that lonely 55 year old people are 30% more likely to develop dementia.
Scientists reviewed evidence from 12 studies in seven countries in Europe and Asia. They involved 21,666 people aged over 55. Researchers focused on various different measures, concerning social isolation. Three studies found that living alone actually increases the risk of dementia. Scientists enhanced these results by using relevant data from other studies. And they found that 55 year old are 30 % more likely to develop dementia when they live alone in comparison to living with someone else.
One previous study showed that if social isolation was not even a thing in our societies cases of dementia would be lower by 5.9 %. This new study proves that social isolation is actually an even more important factor. If we somehow eliminated social isolation, cases of dementia would drop by 8.9 %. This essentially means that social isolation contributes to dementia more than other important factors, such as physical inactivity, hypertension, diabetes or obesity. But why living alone is so bad for your health in terms of dementia risk? Well, surprisingly, scientists don’t actually know for sure.
Dr Roopal Desai, lead author of the study, said: “This study doesn’t explain why living alone is a risk factor for dementia but there are several plausible explanations. It might be because people who live alone experience more loneliness or more stress, both of which can have adverse physical health effects, or it may be due to a lack of cognitive stimulation which is needed to maintain neural connections”. Scientists are not even sure whether internet-delivered social interventions would effectively reduce dementia risk, even though they think they could be helpful.
In simple terms, lack of stimulation could be the reason why people who live alone face an increased risk of dementia. When you live with someone, you are constantly stimulated with conversations and just daily tasks. When you live alone, you don’t even have anyone to talk to or where to direct your efforts. You become lazy, stressed and sad.
COVID-19 pandemic put millions of people into social isolation, which had a huge impact on people’s mental health. However, you have to remember that for many people this was just a normal way of life. Many people are lonely just because they live alone and don’t really have anyone to talk to. This kind of lack of stimulation definitely damages people’s health.