Loneliness A Sign Of Alzheimer’s?

12/1/2016 8:47:46 PM
written By : Team India Se Print

Scientists have long believed that loneliness can be hazardous to the health of older adults. Now a Harvard University study has found older people feeling lonely may be undergoing brain changes that could lead to Alzheimer’s disease.

“I think it’s difficult to extrapolate and say that someone who’s lonely is absolutely more likely to have Alzheimer’s disease, but it could certainly be part of the characteristics of people who are more vulnerable to it,” says Nancy Donovan, a psychiatrist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, who led the study.

Dr Donovan and her colleagues studied 79 men and women with an average age of 76 and no outward signs of memory problems. The participants answered questions designed to assess how lonely they felt, and the researchers used imaging scans to detect the presence of cortical amyloid — a type of protein believed to a precursor of Alzheimer’s — in their brains.

About 32 per cent of the people tested positive for these protein clusters. After the researchers took into account other factors such as depression, anxiety, and social network size, they found that the people in this group were 7.5 times more likely to be classified as lonely, compared with those whose scans were negative.

Dr Donovan says people experiencing brain changes might start to withdraw from group activities. “It may be that as people decline both physically and cognitively, they’re less able to successfully socialise and they become less comfortable and have more anxiety in those situations,” she says.

Writing in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, the study authors acknowledge that the association between loneliness and memory problems could go either way, and that it’s possible that feelings of loneliness and detachment actually promote amyloid accumulation, rather than the other way round.

In an editorial published along with the study, Paul B Rosenberg, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Centre, called the findings “important and intriguing.” Doctors are always looking for new and effective ways to screen patients in the early stages of dementia, he writes, and this study suggests that asking about loneliness could potentially be part of that process.

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