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Is Alzheimer's disease associated with loneliness?

By Tim Sandle     Nov 8, 2016 in Health
New research, based on small sample of adults, indicates that cortical amyloid levels in the brain a marker of preclinical Alzheimer disease has an associated with self-reported loneliness.
Before discussing the study results it’s important to point out that the study was a small one. It looked at 79 adults, each of whom were assessed to be ‘cognitively normal’ at the start of the study. Here the selection is likely to have been narrow in terms of geography, intelligence, overall health and socio-economic status. The study also runs with the widely (but not universally) accepted premise that a build-up of beta amyloids, which go onto form plaques, are the cause of Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer's disease goes through a series of phases, described as: preclinical, mild cognitive impairment and dementia, and then to progressive neuropsychiatric, cognitive and functional declines. In addition, a study of how people perceive loneliness is important since loneliness is likely to be an important aspect of aging; and aging can be associated with developing diseases like Alzheimer's.
A research team, from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, have assessed whether loneliness has an association with cognitive and functional decline and therefore an elevated risk of Alzheimer’s related dementia.
The new research has measured cortical amyloid levels in the brain, over an extended period of time; at the same time, a loneliness scale has been used to indicate levels of loneliness among the study participants.
Those studied were 43 women and 36 men of a typical age of 76. The average loneliness score was 5.3, on a scale of three to 12. It was found that those with a higher loneliness score recorded higher cortical amyloid levels. This meant that those who were amyloid-positive were 7.5 times more likely to be classified as lonely.
Lead researcher Dr. Nancy J. Donovan concludes in a research note: “We report a novel association of loneliness and cortical amyloid burden in cognitively normal adults and present evidence for loneliness as a neuropsychiatric symptom relevant to preclinical Alzheimer disease.”
It is hoped the initial findings will trigger further study, linking Alzheimer disease to the neurobiology of loneliness. The research has been published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. The research paper is referenced as “Association of Higher Cortical Amyloid Burden With Loneliness in Cognitively Normal Older Adults.”
More about Alzheimer's disease, Dementia, Dementia research, Neurology, Loneliness
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