Receiving an early diagnosis for a disease can be a double-edged sword. While an early diagnosis can sometimes provide opportunities for better long-term care planning, a new study has shown that receiving an early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRDs) can have unintended social consequences, particularly on social activity. Luckily, the study further sheds light on how you can intentionally combat its decline.
To examine whether an early ADRDs diagnosis impacts social activity, researchers used longitudinal data collected in 2012, 2014, and 2016 by the nationally representative Health and Retirement Study. The sample consisted of 2,294 respondents, aged 51 or better, who stated in 2012 that they had not received an ADRD diagnosis. In 2014, researchers categorized these respondents into two groups according to whether they had since received an ADRD diagnosis.
In 2016, researchers then examined how social engagement, perceptions of social support, and network size differed between the two groups. Social engagement included both formal engagement (including volunteering with children, other volunteering, attending educational programs, sports games, and social events with clubs or non-religious organizations) and informal engagement (including frequency of meeting with others in person and talking on the phone). Perceived support included both positive and negative social support. Network size included the overall size of one’s social network and number of close ties.
The findings indicated that receiving an early ADRDs diagnosis differently impacts social activity. Fortunately, researchers found that receiving an early ADRDs diagnosis was not significantly associated with network size or perceptions of social support. Following an early ADRD diagnosis, however, respondents were particularly less likely to partake in formal engagements like attending sports or other social events, and less likely to partake in informal social engagements like talking on the phone or face-to-face socializing.
It is now clear that practitioners and policy makers must identify strategies to alleviate the unintended consequences of receiving an early ADRD diagnosis and mobilize support networks. Fortunately, researchers suggest that promoting informal social engagement though activities like face-to-face and telephone contact is a great place to start!
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Amano, T., Reynolds, A., Scher, C., & Jia, Y. (2021). The Effect of Receiving a Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias on Social Relationships of Older Adults. Dementia & Geriatric Cognitive Disorders, 50(4), 401-6.