Loneliness makes our brains shrink

Loneliness makes our brains shrink

The biggest loss is among lonely people

Clearly, brain tissue loss and cognitive impairment were greater in those who were socially isolated. In other words, feeling lonely is associated with faster brain shrinkage.

Research published in eLife (https://elifesciences.org/articles/83660)It supports previous studies that have shown that social isolation without contact with others can accelerate cognitive decline in older adults. However, many of these studies are relatively small and have not examined changes over a long period of time.

Therefore, the German researchers behind the current study wanted to measure how social isolation affects hippocampal volume over a longer period of time, especially since widespread cognitive loss can lead to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

“There has been research on anti-dementia drugs, but so far it has not led to anything of clinical significance. The disease has only led to slight improvements,” explains Lorenz Lammer, who is affiliated with the University Hospital Leipzig and the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany. In symptoms.” Lamer led the new study.

Prevention is important

He also says it is necessary to consider preventive strategies that can stop or delay dementia. In the same way, one of the most important goals could be to identify factors that can increase the risk of developing these diseases.

Study participants were already part of the larger study Life study for adults, which includes more than 10,000 German adults between the ages of 40 and 79 years. Data were collected on participants in 2011-2014 and six years later in 2017-2020.

Lorenz Lammer and colleagues can then analyze this data and use MRI scans to see how fast or slow shrinkage occurs in critical regions of the brain.

Worse at planning and decision making

Through the data they analyzed, the researchers found that participants who did not live alone, were married, had a job and were not of foreign descent generally felt less lonely. In participants who were socially isolated at the start of the study and became progressively lonelier over the six-year follow-up period, greater shrinkage of the hippocampus was observed compared to participants who did not feel socially isolated.

The socially isolated also performed worse on cognitive tests, particularly tests of executive function, the ability to plan or make decisions.

“The difference between having three or four close, supportive friends is comparable to one year of age-related hippocampal shrinkage,” Lorenz Lammer wrote in a press release.

The study sheds light on the relationship between social isolation and brain changes in older adults. However, the researchers say the results may have been affected by the fact that some participants dropped out of the study during the six-year follow-up period. In addition, all study participants were from Germany. It is conceivable that similar studies conducted on people from other cultures would have yielded different results.

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Dalila Awolowo

Dalila Awolowo

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