(HealthDay News) – Older adults who feel lonely have a higher risk of developing dementia, according to a study published online Dec. 10 in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.

Tjalling Jan Holwerda, MD, from the Vrije Universiteit Medical Centre Amsterdam, and colleagues examined the association between social isolation (living alone, being unmarried, without social support), feeling lonely, and dementia in 2,173 non-demented older adults living in the community. Participants were followed for three years, at which time they were assessed for dementia.

After adjusting for sociodemographic factors, medical conditions, depression, cognitive functioning, and functional status, the researchers found that feeling lonely was associated with a significantly higher likelihood of developing dementia (odds ratio, 1.64). In contrast, in multivariate analysis, social isolation was not associated with dementia risk.

“Feeling lonely rather than being alone is associated with an increased risk of clinical dementia in later life and can be considered a major risk factor that, independently of vascular disease, depression, and other confounding factors, deserves clinical attention,” Holwerda and colleagues conclude.

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