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Dementia may travel lonely road in elderly

1:14pm, October 4, 2002

It's plenty tough to grow old when you live alone and have no satisfying contacts with either relatives or friends. Such isolation carries an added burden, however. It sharply boosts a person's chances of developing Alzheimer's disease or related brain ailments associated with advancing age, according to a 3-year investigation of elderly Swedes.

In contrast, marriage and a fulfilling social life appear to protect the elderly against these brain disorders, generally categorized as dementia, concludes a team headed by epidemiologist Laura Fratiglioni of the Stockholm Gerontology Research Centre.

What's more, susceptibility to dementia rises steadily as social isolation intensifies, the researchers report in the April 15 Lancet.

"A poor social network may act as a precipitating factor for dementia, whereas an extensive social network can delay such an [outcome] by providing emotional and intellectual stimulation," Fratiglioni says. The biological mechanisms

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