Dementia: the feeling of loneliness increases the risk of suffering from it

The dementia It is a disease that claims victims every year and affects not only the person who suffers from it but also their environment. There are actions that people, both scientific and not, can take.

While the former work to develop new treatments and a cure, the public can also play a role in preventing the disease from developing in the first place.

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Some preventive techniques are more difficult than others, some do not involve physiological changes at all, but require one to move from one place to another.

The reason for doing it is not to exercise, this also plays an important role, but to see a friend or family member. The purpose of this exercise is to reduce the risk of social isolation, a phenomenon defined as «lack of social contacts and having few people to interact with on a regular basis.»

The reason social isolation is so important in the context of dementia is because scientists have found that it can increase the risk of the disease by as much as 26 percent, according to a new study published in the journal neurology.

Conducted as part of a collaboration between the universities of Cambridge, Warwick and Fudan, the study analyzed data from more than 30,000 adults in the UK Biobank to analyze how social isolation and loneliness influenced a person’s risk of dementia.

The researchers found that those who were more socially isolated had smaller volumes of gray matter in their brains; these areas of matter are responsible for learning and memory.

In addition to looking at the impact of social isolation, the researchers also studied the impact of loneliness on dementia risk. At this point it is important to note that, while similar, loneliness and social isolation are very different entities.

University of Warwick neuroscientist Professor Edmund Rolls explained: “There is a difference between social isolation, which is an objective state of low social connections, and loneliness, which is subjectively perceived social isolation.

«Both have health risks but, using the UK Biobank’s extensive multimodal dataset and working in a multidisciplinary way linking computational science and neuroscience, we’ve been able to show that it’s about social isolation, rather than a feeling of deprivation.» isolation. loneliness, which is an independent risk factor for later dementia.

The official definition of loneliness according to the Campaign to End Loneliness is “a subjective and unwanted feeling of lack or loss of companionship”. Therefore, while social isolation is an objective act, loneliness is a subjective feeling; however, it is possible to be lonely and socially isolated at the same time.

Such is the impact of social isolation on dementia risk, that Professor Rolls believes «may be used as a predictor or biomarker of dementia in the UK».

Dementia: the feeling of loneliness increases the risk of suffering from it

Loneliness and social isolation were two problems that had been exacerbated by COVID-19: «Now, in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are implications for interventions and care of social relationships, particularly in the older population.»

Coupled with the worsening of the problem due to the biggest health crisis in a generation, Professor Roll said loneliness and social isolation had been «a serious but underappreciated public health problem» – one that went unaddressed until it reached a crisis point.

University of Warwick Professor Jianfeng Feng added: «During any future pandemic lockdown, it is important that people, especially older adults, do not experience social isolation.»

The co-investigator, the teacher Barbara Sahakianwho worked in the team of cambridgeechoed these comments, calling on the government «and communities to take steps to ensure that older people communicate and interact with others on a regular basis.»

While loneliness and social isolation are becoming increasingly important risk factors for dementia, they are part of a wide range of risk factors associated with the disease.

According to recent studies in 2020, there is evidence to suggest that there are at least 12 major risk factors for dementia, some of which appear in adolescence.

Although the risk of dementia cannot be associated with youth, it is considered that there is a link between academic progress and degenerative neurodegenerative disease.

In a report published in The Lancet in 2020, education was identified as the only risk factor for the disease in «early years» and the researchers found that less education early in a person’s life could increase their vulnerability to disease.

What are the risk factors in dementia?

The study described a variety of other risk factors that were considered much more influential than education. By middle age, this included:

  • • Loss
  • of hearing • Hypertension
  • • Obesity
  • • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • • Head injury.

Meanwhile, later life factors, defined as affecting those over 65, were:

  • • Smoking
  • • Depression
  • • Social isolation
  • • Physical inactivity
  • • Diabetes
  • • Air pollution .

Professor Gill Livingston, lead author of the study, said at the time the report was published: «Our report shows that it is within the power of policymakers and individuals to prevent and delay a significant proportion of dementia, with opportunities to make an impact at every stage of a person’s life.»