Seniors with dementia who live alone encounter problems with social engagement

Social activity plays an important role in the well-being of many older adults, but sometimes it can be particularly hard for them to remain engaged, especially if they are managing a chronic illness. Elderly individuals with dementia may find it particularly difficult to maintain a presence in everyday life, and a recent study conducted by experts from the Alzheimer’s Society in the U.K. shed some light on the challenges patients face, BBC News reported.

Roadblocks to inclusion
To gain a better understanding of the challenges facing seniors with cognitive health issues, researchers polled more than 500 dementia patients and their caregivers. The results shed some light on how, and why, seniors with dementia become isolated. Approximately one-third of the respondents said they only left the house once a week, while around 10 percent only left the house once a month. Furthermore, 38 percent reported feelings of loneliness and  approximately half said they didn’t want to get involved because they felt like a burden.

‘This report reveals the stark truth that too many people with dementia, especially the thousands who live alone, are truly isolated,” said Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society.

Impact of isolation
The findings highlight the important role that social activity has in the well-being of the elderly population, even among those who do not have dementia. In fact, loneliness and isolation have often been cited as two significant risk factors when it comes to declining senior health. Perhaps the most compelling findings on the impact of social isolation comes from a study out of the University of California, San Francisco.

Researchers there relied on the answers of more than 1,600 adults 60 and over to questions from interviews conducted in 2002. The questions were centered largely around how often they experienced feelings of loneliness. Then, the team tracked which participants experienced health issues in the six years after. Eventually, they found that of the 43 percent of respondents who reported feelings of loneliness, 23 percent died over the course of six years. This made them about 45 percent more likely to pass away than the other group. Lonely seniors also had about a 59 percent greater risk of experiencing a decline in physical function.