Social Isolation Accelerates Memory Loss for Seniors in NY & CT

07 Jul Social Isolation Accelerates Memory Loss for Seniors in NY & CT

While discussing current events at a recent family dinner, my 85 year old mom looked a bit confused and interrupted the conversation and began singing a “ditty,” a sweet song from decades ago that none of us recognized.”  Susan K.

This week, a friend shared her concern about her mother’s notable memory loss and her change in behavior, which had occurred over the past few months during social isolation. I suggested we call her mom and I listened in on the conversation.  Her mom was repeating the same questions to her daughter, over and over again.  While my friend thought her mom was just being “mom” and a bit intrusive, I explained that she may have symptoms of dementia and should visit a Gerontologist to be evaluated.  

Loneliness is Known To Be Connected With Fading Memory

Social contact is hugely important for seniors, not just to slow declining  memory, but for overall well-being. In addition to changes in family demographics and more seniors living alone, social isolation during the coronavirus pandemic since February has created a social vacuum for seniors.

Seniors who are diagnosed with dementia typically see their memory fade by 12 to 30% over two years versus a 2 to 4% decline in memory every two years for healthy seniors not in social isolation. 

A recent study from the UK evaluated more than 11,000 people over the age of 50 every two years between 2002 and 2008.  The team calculated how levels of social isolation and memory loss changed over time. All participants were quizzed on their social interactions and had a memory test. Findings show memory declined by up to a fifth - 18% - every two years in those most affected by social isolation Interesting to note that they found that isolation precedes memory loss—rather than the other way around. The rate at which memory declined in those socially isolated was similar to the rates found among people with progressive memory decline prior to the development of dementia, the researchers said.     

According to Geriatric Care Manager, Allyson Mann, LMSW, ASWCM, of Geriatric Care Consultants, LLC, "One of our clients greatly missed the daily activities and socialization at his assisted living facility.  We have been maintaining weekly contact with him through phone calls and FaceTime arranged through the facility.  Recently, he  expressed relief that he was “freed” from his “incarceration” - required isolation in individual apartments- because they were now allowed outside and allowed to attend activities that are socially distant, while wearing masks."

Maintaining weekly contact for seniors living in the community as well as in assisted-living facilities, provides reassurance to seniors and can also help them focus and improve their mood when having the anticipation of a planned and happy event. 

"Visual props such as looking at familiar photos can enhance the virtual visit.  We also have been delivering care packages which to our clients and they look forward to the surprise delivery," added Allyson.

Signs and Symptoms of Dementia from the Alzheimer's Association

As we age, many of us experience lapses in memory. It can be worrying and confusing to realize that something you once took for granted isn’t working as well as once did. Although, learning to differentiate the signs of dementia from normal aging can help to either set your mind at ease or encourage you to begin taking steps to slow or reverse the condition.

Common Signs and Symptoms Include:

  • Memory loss
  • Impaired judgement
  • Difficulties with abstract thinking
  • Faulty reasoning
  • Inappropriate behavior
  • Loss of communication skills
  • Disorientation to time and place
  • Gait, motor, and balance problems
  • Neglect of personal care and safety
  • Hallucinations, paranoia, agitation

Someone With Dementia Symptoms May:

  • Repeatedly ask the same questions
  • Become lost or disoriented in familiar places
  • Be unable to follow directions
  • Be disoriented about the date or time of day
  • Not recognize or be confused about familiar people
  • Have difficulty with routine tasks such as paying the bills
  • Neglect personal safety, hygiene, and nutrition
Warning Signs of Dementia:
  1. Short-term memory loss. Short term memory loss can start out seemingly normal with everyday things such as lost keys or an unpaid bill. It becomes more concerning when the memory loss disrupts life.
  2. Difficulty carrying out conversations. It is not uncommon for a person to have difficulties putting their thoughts into words when they have dementia. It may be difficult to join or follow a conversation or be unable to find the right words.
  3. Changes in mood or temperament. Another early sign is unpredictable changes in mood. The person can become instantly sad or angry, even when the precise cause is difficult to distinguish.
  4. Inability to follow instructions. Those who have dementia develop an inability to perform daily activities, navigate to familiar destinations, and complete routine chores or jobs.
  5. Inability to recognize places. Someone suffering from dementia can get lost easily or suddenly not be able to remember how he or she got somewhere.
  6. Becoming an observer. In social situations, someone with dementia may act more as an observer than an active participant as it becomes difficult to follow the track of conversations.
  7. Trouble completing daily routines. Normal daily tasks, such as washing the dishes or folding the laundry, often start to fall to the wayside.
  8. Avoiding change. A person with dementia has a hard time processing something new or different from what he or she is used to.
  9. Lapses of judgement. Individuals with dementia may make decisions or choices that are out of character potentially posing safety concerns. For example, not dressing appropriately for the weather.
  10. Repetition. A person with dementia will often repeat stories and ask repetitive questions.
  11. Social withdrawal. As memory loss begins to impact daily life, it is common for those with dementia to reduce social interactions such as joining card clubs or participating in cherished activities.

Shan Wade, President of STEPS Home Care says, "STEPS Home Care has trained and experienced Caregivers that can help safely facilitate engaging activities in the home.  Our STEPPING Out social activity program is now held as an online Zoom meeting each week to keep our patients connected.  Our Care Coordinators and Director of Patient Serivces can also come up with a specific plan for your loved one to insure they stay in touch with family remotely and aren't socially isolated."  

For more detailed information on dementia and Alzheimer's Disease and for resources for assistance please link to the Alzheimer's Association in these locations: