Social Isolation in Mid-Life Makes You More Susceptible to Dementia — A Wake-Up Call for Those Living Alone
The results of a long-term study published this month on risk factors in dementia, show that people socially isolated in their fifties are 26% more likely to develop it later in life.
Dementia is the leading cause of death in the UK. It affects twice as many women as men, and widely impacts the families of sufferers. What the results of this study show is that social isolation in mid-life should be a serious cause for concern, especially among those who find themselves living alone when they would rather not be due to circumstances such as separation, death of a partner, or their children leaving home.
This is the first interdisciplinary, long-term study to be carried out on dementia that has enabled the identification of the facors that cause it. Scientists from Warwick, Cambridge and Fudan Universities used neuroimaging data from more than 30,000 participants in the UK, following them from age 57 for twelve years. They found that social isolation was directly linked to changes to brain structures associated with memory and cognitive function. It was not so much about the feeling of loneliness and often associated depression, which they found to have a small impact, but rather a lack of social interaction that was the significant factor.
Normally our focus of concern when it comes to isolation is the more elderly and vulnerable in the community. Yet this study shows that it may be people in mid-life who live alone in relative isolation, who could have most to lose, and unaware of the risk to their mental health, may miss vital opportunities to mitigate it. This has public health implications for a society in which social isolation is on the increase, but individuals can also take their own measures to reduce the risk. One obvious solution for those living alone and who have a spare room, is homeshare, and it is rising in popularity among the over fifties. However, having a lodger is not in itself a guarantee of social interaction.
A unique homeshare scheme, recently launched, that does offer such interaction is Hapipod.com. It offers the chance for paying lodgers to reduce their room fees by offering their hosts company or help in exchange. As a matching site it works similarly to a dating site where homesharers match based on background, personality and shared interests. Connected parties then agree between them precise room fees of up to £81 per week (£350 per month) and activities for up to 8 hours per week, which can be anything from playing tennis, hiking, going to the theatre or offering help with such things as IT, shopping or light housework. It creates a mutually beneficial living arrangement that provides an antidote to social isolation as well as an income for householders, while creating affordable accommodation for lodgers on restricted income.
When it comes to mid-life, since we are all living longer and healthier lives in general, many of us still feel two decades younger, and invincible. Divorce rates are rising fastest among the baby boomer generation (age 55–75). For some this brings welcome freedoms, others adapt to less social interaction, whilst others are left isolated and unhappy. In all cases, however, we would surely agree on one thing; anything likely to increase our susceptibility to dementia should be avoided at all cost. Of course having a lodger is not for everyone, but let this be a wake-up call, to make sure solitude does not take precedence over our mental health and wellbeing into older age.
It is FREE to register at Hapipod.com, set up a profile and see who’s available. Members only need pay the one-off ID check fee and subscription if and when they see someone of interest.
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