Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease, slowly robbing patients of their memories and even their sense of selves.
Now, new research shows it also robs sufferers of a healthy social life.
“Social relationships are an essential feature of our quality of life and can buffer against cognitive decline,” said study co-author Addam Reynolds, a doctoral candidate at the Rutgers School of Social Work in New Brunswick, N.J.
“Given the lack of a cure of these diseases, we must focus on ways people can maintain or improve their quality of life after receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias,” Reynolds said in a Rutgers news release.
The researchers analyzed 2012, 2014 and 2016 data from the Health and Retirement Study — a national study that surveys U.S. adults and their spouses aged 51 and older — and compared participants who received an Alzheimer’s diagnosis in 2014 to those who did not.
The results showed that two years after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, patients spent less time talking on the phone, had less face-to-face contact with others and went to fewer social and sporting events.
The study was published recently in the journal Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders.
The researchers also found that social support didn’t increase after diagnosis.
Health care providers and policymakers need to be aware of the negative social impacts of Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and identify ways to reduce them and to mobilize support networks after a diagnosis, the researchers said.
It may be especially important to promote informal face-to-face and telephone contact, which is more accessible than formal socializing, they suggested.
“Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias are a public health priority that has a significant impact on people with these diseases, their families and society,” said lead study author Takashi Amano, an assistant professor at Rutgers’ Department of Social Work.
“In recent years, health professionals have wanted to diagnose people earlier because of benefits like better long-term care planning and less anxiety,” he said in the release.
“While there are benefits to receiving an earlier diagnosis, negative consequences may include an increased risk of suicide or requesting physician-assisted suicide,” Amano said.
More than 6 million people in the United States were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and related types of dementia in 2020.
The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about Alzheimer’s disease.