The study also found that those who did not go beyond their driveway or front yard were also more likely to develop mild cognitive disorder, which can be an early manifestation of Alzheimer's.
There are some caveats to the research. Some of the participants lived in retirement homes and may have led full lives without needing to leave the buildings where they live; however, they were still counted as being housebound.
Still, the researchers found that the connection between isolation and Alzheimer's disease remained even when they adjusted their statistics so they wouldn't be thrown off by factors such as depression, social networks, disease and disability, as well as age, sex, education, race or preclinical dementia.
Why does all this matter? "People are interested in figuring out who's going to develop Alzheimer's and new ways to target more people likely to develop it," James said. "Maybe with the limited interventions we do have available, we can target them toward people who aren't leaving their homes."
Dr. James R. Burke, director of the Memory Disorders Clinic at Duke University Medical Center, said isolation could offer a clue to possible dementia problems before they become obvious. "This will be particularly important when disease-modifying therapies are available, so that evaluations can be started and interventions considered before there are significant cognitive problems," Burke said.
"This paper is consistent with, but extends, previous findings that physical activity, intellectual engagement and social stimulation are important to delaying cognitive decline," Burke added.
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