Loneliness and brain atrophy
Older people who have little social contact with others may be more likely to have loss of overall brain volume, and in areas of the brain affected by dementia, than people with more frequent social contact, according to a study published in the July 12, 2023, online issue of Neurology.
This new study finds a link between social isolation in older adults and decreased brain volume, particularly in areas affected by dementia. Conducted on nearly 9,000 participants without dementia, the research found that those with the least social contact had significantly lower overall brain volume compared to those with more social interactions.
The study doesn't establish a cause-effect relationship but indicates potential benefits of social engagement in preventing brain atrophy and dementia development.
The research found an association between social isolation and decreased brain volume, particularly in areas like the hippocampus and amygdala, which are affected by dementia.
Participants with the least social contact also had more white matter lesions, indicative of brain damage, than those with more frequent social interactions.
Symptoms of depression were found to partly explain the relationship between social isolation and brain volumes, but accounted for only 15% to 29% of the association.