Wednesday, February 07, 2007

'Feeling alone' as opposed to 'being alone' and the increased risk for Alzheimers in the former.

In a study published in the February issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, Dr. Robert S. Wilson and his colleagues have found evidence from an experimental study that loneliness is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Little is actually known about feeling alone rather than being alone - like between a person who could feel ‘alone’ even when surrounded by lots of people around as opposed to ‘being alone’ experienced by a lot of older age individuals who have lost their significant others.

Humans are very social creatures. We need healthy interactions with others to maintain our health,” said Wilson. “The results of our study suggest that people who are persistently lonely may be more vulnerable to the deleterious effects of age-related neuropathology.”
If loneliness is causing changes in the brain, it is quite possible that medications or changes in behavior could lessen the effects of these negative emotions and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Wilson.

They analyzed the association between loneliness and Alzheimer’s disease in 823 older adults over a four year period and included questionnaires to assess loneliness, classifications of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and testing of their thinking, learning and memory abilities. Loneliness was measured on a scale of one to five, with higher scores indicating more loneliness.
Risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease increased approximately 51 percent for each point on the loneliness score, so that a person with a high loneliness score (3.2) had about double the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than a person with a low score (1.4).

Previous studies have shown the effects of social isolation and the risk for dementia and cognitive decline (like that suffered by prisoners undergoing long term incarceration), but this study was one of the first to focus on the effects of emotional isolation when the person has it in their minds that they FEEL alone. A very instructive study and I will be eager to find out more on this as and when additional results come out of this group.

Loneliness and Risk of Alzheimer Disease by Robert S. Wilson, PhD et. al - Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2007;64:234-240

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