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.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.
- Campbell, D. (2012, December 10). Dementia linked to loneliness, study finds. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/dec/10/loneliness-dementia-link
- 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
- Is a marker of preclinical Alzheimer’s disease associated with loneliness? (2016, November 2). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/11/161102132631.htm
- Threat to health. (n.d.). Campaign to End Loneliness: Connections in Older Age. Retrieved from http://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/threat-to-health/
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