Socially Isolated Seniors Have Reduced Grey Matter and Are At Risk Of Dementia, New Study Finds

The coronavirus epidemic has raised concerns about social isolation among persons of different ages. According to a recent study, older persons who are socially isolated are more prone to have less brain tissue in regions related to cognition. They thus have a higher chance of getting dementia as a result. 

Socially isolated individuals need resources to help connect with the community 

Study author and Fudan University’s Jianfeng Feng said in a press release, “Social isolation is a serious yet underrecognized public health problem that is often associated with old age. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, social isolation, or the state of being cut off from social networks, has intensified. It’s more important than ever to identify people who are socially isolated and provide resources to help them make connections in their community.”

The study’s authors examined approximately 460,000 elderly people in the United Kingdom and assessed each one’s levels of loneliness, social isolation, and cognitive competence in order to come to these conclusions. Importantly, before the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers monitored each participant for about 12 years, during which time their average age was 57.

Around 60% (29,036) and 9% (41,886), respectively, said they felt very lonely during that period. The study’s authors, to gauge social isolation, in particular, posed three questions. Any person who gave a negative response to a minimum of two questions was thought to be socially isolated, according to the researchers.

Does solitude really result in a smaller brain?

In total, 4,998 persons experienced dementia during the investigation. However, when you look at that statistic in more detail, 649 socially separated adults (1.55 percent) had dementia, as opposed to 4,349 out of 420,733 people who weren’t socially isolated (1.03 percent ).

Additionally, people who were socially isolated showed reduced gray matter volumes in parts of the brain linked to both development and reasoning. Even after researchers took into consideration differences in sex, age, socioeconomic position, drinking, and smoking habits, as well as degrees of despair and loneliness, this association persisted.

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