Summary: Feeling lonely for long periods of time was associated with faster memory decline in people over the age of 65.
Font: University of Michigan
Prolonged loneliness in adults older than 65 may be a major risk factor for accelerated memory aging, according to a new study led by researchers at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.
“We found that feeling lonely longer was associated with faster memory decline, suggesting that it’s never too late in life to work on reducing feelings of loneliness to support healthy aging,” said Lindsay Kobayashi. , assistant professor of epidemiology. and lead author of the study published in the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.
Kobayashi and colleagues analyzed interview data from more than 9,000 adults age 50 and older from the US Health and Retirement Study from 1996 to 2016. They assessed participants’ cumulative duration of loneliness from 1996 to 2004 in relation to changes in memory function over the next 12 years from 2004 to 2016.
Xuexin Yu, an epidemiology doctoral candidate and lead author of the study, said the association between loneliness and memory aging was strongest in people aged 65 and older, and women experienced stronger memory decline. and faster than men.
“Women tend to have larger social networks than men, which may make women less likely to feel lonely than men, but more vulnerable once they experience long-term loneliness,” Yu said. “Social stigma and reluctance to admit loneliness may also be a factor in this observed gender-specific association.”
Loneliness and objective social isolation are important factors in the health of older adults, and researchers say that reducing loneliness in midlife may help maintain memory function for longer.
In addition to Yu and Kobayashi, Ashly Westrick, a postdoctoral fellow at the UM Center for Social Epidemiology and Population Health, co-authored the study.
About this research news on aging and loneliness
Author: press office
Font: University of Michigan
Contact: Press Office – University of Michigan
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original research: Open access.
“Cumulative loneliness and later memory function and rate of decline among adults aged ≥50 years in the United States, 1996 to 2016” by Xuexin Yu et al. Alzheimer’s and dementia
Cumulative loneliness and subsequent memory function and rate of decline among adults aged ≥50 years in the United States, 1996 to 2016
The aim of the study was to investigate the association between duration of loneliness and memory function over a 20-year period.
Data were from 9,032 adults aged ≥50 years in the Health and Retirement Study. Loneliness status (yes vs. no) was assessed every two years from 1996 to 2004 and its duration was classified as never, 1 time point, 2 time points, and ≥3 time points. Episodic memory was assessed from 2004 to 2016 as a combination of immediate and delayed recall trials combined with proxy-reported memory. Mixed effects linear regression models were fitted.
Longer duration of loneliness was associated with lower memory scores (P < 0.001) and a faster rate of decline (P <0.001). The association was stronger among adults aged 65 years or older than among those younger than 65 years (three-way interaction P = 0.013) and was stronger among women than men (three-way interaction P = 0.002).
Cumulative loneliness may be a prominent risk factor for accelerated memory aging, especially among women aged ≥65 years.
- A longer duration of loneliness was associated with accelerated memory aging.
- The association was stronger among women than men and among older adults than among younger people.
- Reducing loneliness in middle or old age can help maintain memory function.