Why Spending Time With Friends And Loved Ones Is So Important For Your Health

Most people enjoy social interactions with friends and loved ones. But there are more reasons than just enjoyment to engage in these activities. According to a new study published in Neurology, feelings of loneliness can increase your risk of developing dementia later in life. Notably, people in the study who were not at a high risk of developing dementia due to underlying health conditions or age were still three times more likely to develop the condition if they experienced loneliness more than three times per week.

"These findings not only establish this link between loneliness and dementia risk much more firmly, but also have implications for how we think about risk factors for dementia, the relevance of basic loneliness screening in assessing individuals at greater risk, and how there is a potential to underestimate this risk in lonely adults, especially if they don't have any known genetic risk factors like the APOE e4 allele," said Dr. Joel Salinas, a neurologist at New York University Langone Health and the study's first author (via Medical News Today). The study followed various individuals over a 10-year period to find these connections.

Why loneliness can be so harmful

Loneliness has been an issue for many Americans for years and has been even more prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is even more common among older adults, who often find themselves isolated in older age. "Older people are at a heightened risk of loneliness due to dwindling networks as friends and family die, they live alone or move to an aged care facility where they may be unable to connect to many residents due to communication challenges as a result of dementia. This may result in social isolation, or they may feel lonely," said Dr. Wendy Moyle, the program director of the Healthcare Practice and Survivorship Program at Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia, via Medical News Today.

Although it is not completely clear why loneliness is linked with a variety of health conditions, some experts believe it may be a biological response to stress (via National Institute on Aging). Someone who is chronically lonely may activate a sort of defense system in the brain due to the stress of the loneliness. This can increase inflammation in the body, which in turn can increase the risk of many diseases like dementia. Loneliness can also harm someone's immune system and again lead to many diseases.