Study Shows Loneliness Associated with Alzheimer’s Markers

Senior man celebrates birthday aloneSeniors who report higher levels of loneliness may be more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s, according to a study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

The study looked at the correlation between loneliness and a genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Lonely people were more likely to show pre-clinical markers for Alzheimer’s. Researchers controlled for factors commonly associated with loneliness, including social networks, so the study suggests perceived feelings of loneliness—rather than solely isolation—may predict Alzheimer’s.

Loneliness and Alzheimer’s Risk

The study looked at 79 cognitively typical older adults, including 43 women and 36 men with an average age of 76. Twenty-two participants carried an Alzheimer’s genetic risk factor. Twenty-five were amyloid-positive, indicating an elevated cortical amyloid burden. Amyloids are proteins associated with Alzheimer’s, so clinically significant amyloid levels may foretell Alzheimer’s.

Each participant ranked answered three measures of loneliness, producing a loneliness ranking of 3-12. Higher numbers indicated greater perceived loneliness. The average loneliness ranking in the group was 5.3.

Amyloid-positive participants had higher loneliness rankings and were 7.5 times more likely to be classified as lonely compared to amyloid-negative participants. Those who carried the genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s also reported higher loneliness levels. Researchers adjusted for common predictors of loneliness, including depression, age, sex, social network, and anxiety, so these factors alone cannot account for differences between the groups.

Previous Research on Loneliness and Alzheimer’s

This is not the first study to uncover a link between loneliness and dementia. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry found a 64% increase in the risk of dementia among lonely people. Like the latest study, that study found the increase was due to perceived loneliness levels, not just to living alone or being socially isolated.

Previous studies have also linked loneliness to physical health problems. A 2015 study, for example, found loneliness may be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Having friendships and active social networks can help protect against developing diseases and help people recover more quickly if they do become ill.


  1. Campbell, D. (2012, December 10). Dementia linked to loneliness, study finds. Retrieved from
  2. Donovan, N. J., Okereke, O. I., Vannini, P., Amariglio, R. E., Rentz, D. M., Marshall, G. A., . . . Sperling, R. A. (2016). Association of higher cortical amyloid burden with loneliness in cognitively normal adults. JAMA Psychiatry. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.2657
  3. Is a marker of preclinical Alzheimer’s disease associated with loneliness? (2016, November 2). Retrieved from
  4. Threat to health. (n.d.). Campaign to End Loneliness: Connections in Older Age. Retrieved from

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Marist


    November 14th, 2016 at 2:38 PM

    any thoughts on if these markers could be what cause you to turn others away which therefore increases susceptibility to loneliness?

  • Chelle


    November 15th, 2016 at 2:43 PM

    How would you be more vulnerable? If you have it then you have it right?

  • Mari C

    Mari C

    November 17th, 2016 at 1:44 PM

    If you isolate yourself on purpose or just what happens I can imagine it does lead to your mind becoming stagnant. I have been reading Four Seasons of Loneliness by JW Freiberg. He takes 4 people and shows how isolation and loneliness affects their lives. It’s an interesting look into what these lives deal with.

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