Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Loneliness and Alzheimer's

Reported by the BBC:
People who are lonely are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease, a large US study has suggested...

Professor Wilson, professor of neuropsychology at Rush University Medical Centre said: "There are two ideas that we should take away, number one is it suggests that loneliness really is a risk factor and secondly in trying to understand that association we need to look outside the typical neuropathology."

He said the results ruled out the possibility that loneliness is a reaction to dementia...

"We need to be aware that loneliness doesn't just have an emotional impact but a physical impact," he said...

Rebecca Wood chief executive of the Alzheimer's Research Trust said: "This is an impressive study. It follows a large group of people for a significant period of time and comes up with startling findings that back up earlier studies examining social interaction and Alzheimer's risk.

"What I find particularly interesting about this study is the fact that it is an individual's perception of being lonely rather than their actual degree of social isolation that seems to correlate most closely with their Alzheimer's risk."
Given the track record of turning 'risk factors' into medical conditions, how long before the 'perception of being lonely' gets a medical tag?

2 comments:

Andy said...

Obvious question here, what's the direction of causality? How could it be tested?

david said...

Andy, you can read more about the research here. Of course, any study like this confronts the problem of confounding variables, but Professor Wilson and colleagues do at least attempt to show that the perception of loneliness is a risk factor, rather than a result of dementia:

"Autopsies were performed on 90 individuals who died during the study. Loneliness during life was not related to any of the hallmark brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease, including nerve plaques and tangles, or tissue damaged by lack of blood flow."