Loneliness may predict Alzheimer’s disease

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A new study suggests that people who had high levels of the protein amyloid in their brain, the plaques of which are implicated in Alzheimer’s disease, were more likely to be classified as lonely.

Amyloid protein forms plaques in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease and is known to build up in the brain many years before dementia symptoms appear.

The study, published in the journal, JAMA Psychiatry, involved 79 adults aged 65 to 90 years who did not have dementia.

Of the 79 participants, 25 people (32%) were classed as having high levels of amyloid, measured using PET imaging. These participants were 7.5 times more likely to report being lonely than those who were negative for the presence of amyloid in their brains. 

Dr Clare Walton, Research Manager at Alzheimer’s Society said: “Those who had high levels of amyloid were much more likely to say they felt lonely, even when the quality of their social environment was taken into account. These findings suggest that loneliness could be an early predictor of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

“Loneliness is a growing concern for our ageing population and we know that too often dementia and loneliness come hand in hand. No one should feel alone but if people are not properly supported, dementia can be an incredibly isolating experience. It is essential people with dementia are supported to maintain meaningful social connections and continue living their life as they want.”

Dr Walton added that as it was a small study, more research is now needed to cement these claims.