I read an interesting study today that suggested there may be a connection between loneliness and Alzheimer’s. What was most interesting was that it was those who felt lonely versus those who lived alone but didn’t express feelings of loneliness that had a higher incidence of Alzheimer’s.
It was a surprising result to the researchers. I’ve read numerous studies about social isolation leading to everything from dementia to depression. I wonder if these studies have some inbuilt bias towards extroverted people. There are some people who need constant company or they feel lonely; others can interact socially with people once or twice a week and be perfectly happy.
I’m not sure if Dad felt lonely before Alzheimer’s set in. Dad certainly had a passion for “alone time” activities like reading. He also had a solitary job as a security guard for many years. So like me, he was comfortable being alone and entertaining himself. Did he yearn for more socializing? That I will never know.
But what is clear to me is that once Alzheimer’s took hold of my father, he was whisked away into an isolating world, where we really could no longer connect with him in a meaningful way. And I saw that same isolation play out on the faces of every patient in the dementia ward of the residential facility where my dad spent the last year of his life. I remember so many residents reaching out, touching my arm, trying to communicate with me, hoping to make some kind of human connection. I often felt like I let them down when they shuffled away after an awkward, confusing exchange.
I hope there are more studies investigating social isolation and dementia, and I hope they take into account that both introverts and extroverts exist, and that the definition of loneliness is different for every human being.