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Can going to church reduce the risk of dementia?

February 2015 | by Louise Morse

Simply going to church may be putting off your chance of developing Alzheimer’s. We already know that research shows that ‘people with a faith, who regularly attend a place of worship’ tend to live longer.

Commenting on the research, a professor said the evidence was so clear that, although he wasn’t a believer, he thought he might go for his health’s sake.

This confirms previous research showing feelings of loneliness can be a risk factor for dementia.

Measuring loneliness

Robert S. Wilson, PhD, and his colleagues at the Centre for Aging, Rush University, Chicago, analysed the association between loneliness and Alzheimer’s disease, in 823 older adults, over a four-year period.

Loneliness was measured on a scale of one to five, with higher scores indicating more loneliness. At the first examination, participants’ average loneliness score was 2.3. During the study period, 76 individuals developed dementia that met criteria for Alzheimer’s disease.

Risk for developing Alzheimer’s increased by about 51 per cent for each point on the loneliness score, so that a person with a high loneliness score (3.2) had about 2.1 times greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than a person with a low score (1.4).

The findings did not change significantly when the researchers factored in other markers of social isolation, such as having small social networks and infrequent social activities.

‘Humans are very social creatures’, said Dr Wilson. ‘We need healthy interactions with others to maintain our health. The results of our study suggest that people who are persistently lonely may be more vulnerable to the deleterious effects of age-related neuro-pathology’.

He encourages more study to look at how negative emotions cause changes in the brain, something that Professor Kitwood, of Bradford University,
advocated years ago. In his book,
Dementia reconsidered (Open University Press), Prof. Kitwood suggested that a ‘malign social pathology’ could very likely create a harmful biochemical environment in the brain that is damaging to neurones.

God’s instructions

Isn’t it fascinating to see how science and research echo what was written in the Scriptures thousands of years ago?

From cover to cover, there are instructions in the Bible about caring for one another in community, neighbourhoods, families, the nation as a whole — and, most importantly, in church: ‘Not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together’ (Hebrews 10:25).

I wish I could say that being part of an active, caring church meant you would never develop dementia. But in diminishing the risk of loneliness, it will certainly ameliorate an important risk factor.

Louise Morse

The author works with Pilgrims’ Friend Society (





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