Living alone during old age and the risk of dementia: Assessing the cumulative risk of living alone.

TitleLiving alone during old age and the risk of dementia: Assessing the cumulative risk of living alone.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2023
AuthorsShaw, BA, Yang, T-C, Kim, S
JournalThe Journals of Gerontology, Series B
ISSN Number1758-5368
Keywordscognitive impairment, Living arrangements, social isolation

OBJECTIVE: This study examines the association between living alone during old age and dementia. Whereas most previous studies on this topic utilize measures of living alone status that were obtained at a single point in time, we compare this typical approach to one that measures long-term exposure to living alone among older adults and assesses whether dementia is more likely to occur within individuals with more accumulated time living alone.

METHODS: Data come from the Health and Retirement Study, with a follow-up period of 2000 - 2018. A total of 18,171 older adults were followed during this period, resulting in 78,490 person-waves analyzed in a series of multi-level logistic models. Contemporaneous living alone was recorded when a respondent's household size was equal to 1 in a given wave. Cumulative living alone was calculated by adding the number of living alone statuses up to a given wave.

RESULTS: Contemporaneous living alone was either not associated (male-only subsample), or inversely associated (female-only subsample) with dementia. By contrast, a one-unit (i.e., one wave) increase in cumulative living alone was associated with about a 10% increase in the odds of dementia for both men (OR = 1.111) and women (OR = 1.088), net of several covariates, including marital status, age, social activities, and social support.

DISCUSSION: Living alone during late life is an important risk factor for dementia, but the cognitive effects of solitary living probably do not take hold immediately for most older adults and potentially demonstrate a dose-response relationship.

Citation Key12740
PubMed ID36179214
PubMed Central IDPMC9938918