TUESDAY, April 26 (HealthDay News) -- Seniors who are "housebound" seem to have nearly double the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, a new study suggests.
The research doesn't prove that being confined to the house causes dementia, and other factors could explain the association. Still, the findings raise questions about the possible cost of isolation, said lead investigator Bryan D. James, a postdoctoral fellow at Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center in Chicago.
"People who don't leave their home as much aren't engaging with their environment and meeting new people," James said. "They may not be using their minds as much."
But James and his colleagues noted that underlying brain disease may also explain the results -- that is, people may not be getting out as much because the insidious workings of Alzheimer's or another form of dementia may affect the way one moves through the world long before they affect memory or speech.
Alzheimer's disease afflicts an estimated 5.2 million people in the United States. That number is expected to grow to as many as 7.7 million Americans by 2030 as the Baby Boom generation ages.
The new study, published online April 15 in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, looks at something known as "life space."
"[Life space] is actually a measure that has come into vogue with gerontologists lately," James said. "Mostly it's been a measurement of mobility, figuring out whether people are getting around their environment, how much they're seeing that's different from their couch or bedroom or living room."
Researchers followed 1,294 seniors from two separate studies of older adults whose health was being tracked over time. At the beginning of this study, none of the elders showed signs of dementia. Over an average of 4.4 years, 180 developed Alzheimer's disease.
The researchers found that people who reported
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