Loneliness and dementia: Is social contact key to maintaining brain health in older adults?

Loneliness and dementia: Is social contact key to maintaining brain health in older adults?

Older people who have little social contact may be more likely to lose Brain volume in In general, and in areas of the brain affected by dementia, people with more frequent social contact, according to a study published in the journal Neurology.

“Social isolation is a growing problem for older adults,” explained one of the first authors of the analysis, Toshiharu Ninomiya, of Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan, referring to the results of the recently released work. In that sense, they affirmed that providing support Helping people initiate and maintain their connections with others may be beneficial in preventing brain atrophy and developing dementia“.

The study involved 8,896 people, average age 73, who did not have dementia. Brain MRIs and health screenings were done to determine the range of social contact, and each of the research participants was asked the same question: how often are you in contact with relatives or friends who do not live with you (for example, meeting or talking on the phone)? The answer options were every day, several times a week, several times a month and a few times. From this analysis, the results emerged.

People who maintained the lowest level of social contact had significantly reduced brain volume compared to those who had a higher number and frequency of relationships in their immediate environment.

The Total brain volume, which is the sum of white and gray matter, expressed as a percentage of total intracranial volume (which includes the brain, meninges, and cerebrospinal fluid), was 67.3% in the group with the lowest level of social contact, in contrast to 67.8% in those who reported a higher level of social relationships.

They also had lower volumes in areas of the brain such as The hippocampus and amygdala, two areas that play a key role in the smooth functioning of the memory and that, in addition, they are affected by the appearance of symptoms of dementia. The researchers took into account other factors that could affect brain volume, such as age, diabetes, smoking and physical activity.

At the same time, they also found that socially isolated people had more small areas of damage in the brain, called white matter lesions, than those individuals with frequent social contact. The percentage of intracranial volume formed by white matter lesions was 0.30 for the members of the first group, compared to 0.26 for those who were more socially connected.

The researchers found that symptoms of depression explained in part the relationship between the Social isolation and brain volumes. However, these signs accounted for only 15% to 29% of the association.

“While this study is a snapshot in time and does not determine that social isolation causes brain atrophy, some previous papers have shown that exposing older people to socially stimulating groups stopped, or even reversed, the decline in brain volume and improved thinking and memory skills. So it’s possible that interventions to improve people’s social isolation could prevent brain volume loss and dementia, which often follows that condition,” Niomiya said.

Since the study involved only older Japanese, one limitation is that the findings may not be generalizable to people of other ethnicities and younger individuals, according to the team of researchers that included: Naoki Hirabayashi, Takanori Honda, Jun Hata, Yoshihiko Furuta, Mao Shibata, Tomoyuki Ohara, Yasuko Tatewaki, Yasuyuki Taki, Shigeyuki Nakaji, Tetsuya Maeda, Kenjiro Ono, Masaru Mimura, Kenji Nakashima, Jun-Ichi Iga and Minoru Takebayashi.


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