A new publication released by the Alzheimer’s Society today reports that 38% of people with dementia say that they are lonely, with a further 12% reporting they do not know if they are lonely. More than two-thirds (70%) of people with dementia have stopped doing things that they used to do after diagnosis.

Based on a survey of over 500 adults with dementia and a series of in-depth interviews, the report founds a number of reasons contributing to the loneliness of people with dementia, including:

  • Loss of confidence after diagnosis
  • Fears of becoming confused or getting lost
  • Mobility difficulties and other physical impairments
  • Having no-one to go to activities with
  • Not remembering visits from friends (not perceiving social contact)

The survey and interviews highlight the importance of family and friends for socialising and leaving the house. Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they spoke to family or friends face-to-face every day, and 88% said they relied on family and friends to take them out. However, of those who lived alone and responded to the survey, nearly half said they had lost friends, hadn’t told their friends about their diagnosis or didn’t know if they had lost friends.

These latest figures about loneliness for adults with dementia (most respondents were over the age of 50) are noteworthy, and should be taken seriously as loneliness has a significant negative impact on our health: research shows that lacking social connections is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. A number of studies have demonstrated a link between loneliness and dementia – a recent Dutch study stated those who suffer from loneliness have a 64% greater risk of developing clinical dementia.

It is a sad reality that loneliness can both increase our risk of dementia, and be increased by dementia. But both health and quality of life for older people with dementia can be improved by reducing loneliness.

What can health and care services do?

The Alzheimer’s Society report calls on local authority commissioners to commission a wide range of services to ensure people with dementia are not socially isolated or lonely, such as Memory Cafes, befriending and transport suitable for people with dementia.

Last week, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellent (NICE) published a new ‘quality standard’ for health and care professionals working with people with dementia. The standard explicitly states the importance of people with dementia being supported to maintain and develop relationships.

Finally, newly established health and wellbeing boards should also be playing a leading role in addressing loneliness in older age, and for people with dementia as they bring together key health and social care services together in a locality. For more information about how they can be taking action to reduce loneliness, visit our online loneliness toolkit for health and wellbeing boards.

  • For information about our new health and wellbeing conference dedicated to the issue of loneliness in older age, visit our Connect + Act event page
  • For a full copy of Dementia 2013: the hidden voices of loneliness, visit the Alzheimer’s Society website