Study Shows that Social Isolation Is Linked to a High Risk of Developing Dementia

Study Shows that Social Isolation Is Linked to a High Risk of Developing Dementia

Scientists have found that social isolation is linked to changes in the brain directly associated with memory which means it is also a big risk of developing dementia in the long run!

Before reaching this conclusion, researchers at the University of Warwick, University of Cambridge and Fudan University decided to look into how loneliness and social isolation can lead to dementia.

They used neuroimaging data from over 30,000 participants in the UK Biobank data set and learned that individuals socially isolated registered less grey matter in the brain regions that deal with learning and memory.

The study has been published in Neurology, online.

Socially isolated people had 26 percent more chances of developing dementia after adjusting for a number of risk factors including chronic illness, socio-economic factors, depression, lifestyle and APOE genotype.

Another similar thing, loneliness, was also associated with dementia but the association was not as significant as you would think after adjusting the results for depression which explained 75 percent of the link between dementia and loneliness.

More precisely, loneliness is a subjective feeling while social isolation is objective, making it into an independent risk of dementia.

Further analysis also showed that this effect was particularly prominent in people over the age of 60.

Neuroscientist and professor at the University of Warwick Department of Computer Science, Edmund Rolls, explained that “There’s a difference between social isolation, which is an objective state of lower social connections, and loneliness, which is subjectively seen social isolation. Both have risks to one’s health but, using the extensive multimodal data set from the UK Biobank, and working in a multi-disciplinary way linking computational sciences and neuroscience, we’ve been able to show that it’s social isolation, rather than a feeling of loneliness, which is an independent risk factor for later dementia.”

Rolls went on to share that “This means it can be used as a predictor or biomarker for dementia in the UK. With the growing prevalence of social isolation and loneliness over the last decades, this has been a serious but underappreciated public health problem. Now, in the shadow of the  pandemic there are implications for social relationship interventions and care – particularly in the older population.”

University of Cambridge Department of Psychiatry Professor Barbara J Sahakian also stressed that “Now that we know the risk to brain health and dementia of social isolation, it is important that the government and communities take action to ensure that older individuals have communication and interactions with others on a regular basis.”

Katherine Baldwin

Katherine is just getting her start as a journalist. She attended a technical school while still in high school where she learned a variety of skills, from photography to nutrition. Her enthusiasm for both natural and human sciences is real so she particularly enjoys covering topics on medicine and the environment.

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