Socially isolated people have differently wired brains and less cognition

Summary: Social isolation is associated with changes in brain structure and cognitive deficits. In addition, social isolation can increase the risk of developing dementia with age.

source: Conversation

Why do we get so fussed about being in large groups at festivals, jubilees, and other public events? According to the social brain hypothesis, it is because the human brain evolved specifically to support social interactions. Studies have shown that Belong to the group It can lead to improved well-being and increased life satisfaction.

Unfortunately, many people experience loneliness or social isolation. And if the human brain has indeed evolved for social interaction, we should expect this to have a major impact on it. Our recent study, Posted in Neurologyshows that social isolation is linked to changes in brain structure and cognition – the mental process of acquiring knowledge – even carrying an increased risk of dementia in older adults.

There is already a lot of evidence supporting the social brain hypothesis. One study identified areas of the brain associated with social interaction in Nearly 7000 people.

showed that areas of the brain that are consistently involved in diverse social interactions are closely linked to the networks that support cognition, including the default mode network (which is active when we are not focusing on the outside world), the salience network (which helps us determine what we are paying attention to), and the subcortical network (involved in memory, emotion, and motivation) and the central executive network (which enables us to regulate our emotions).

We wanted to look more closely at how social isolation affects gray matter — the brain regions in the brain’s outer layer, which are made up of neurons. Therefore, we investigated data from nearly 500,000 people from the UK Biobank, with an average age of 57. People were classified as socially isolated if they lived alone, had less than monthly social contact and participated in social activities less than a week .

Our study also included neuroimaging (MRI) data from approximately 32,000 subjects. This showed that socially isolated people had impaired cognition, including memory and reaction time, and reduced gray matter volume in many parts of the brain.

These regions included the temporal region (which processes sounds and helps encode memory), the frontal lobe (which is involved in attention, planning, and complex cognitive tasks) and the hippocampus—a key area involved in learning and memory, which is typically disrupted early in Alzheimer’s disease.

We also found an association between lower gray matter volumes and specific genetic processes involved in Alzheimer’s disease.

There were follow-ups with participants 12 years later. This showed that those who were socially isolated, but not lonely, had a 26% increased risk of developing dementia.

basic operations

Social isolation must be examined in more detail in future studies to determine the exact mechanisms behind its profound effects on our brains. But obviously if you’re isolated you might be suffers from chronic stress. This, in turn, has a huge impact on your brain, as well as your physical health.

Another factor may be that if we don’t use certain areas of the brain, we lose some of it their job. A study of taxi drivers showed that the more they memorized routes and addresses, the more they numbered hippocampal volume a plus. It is possible that if we do not regularly engage in social discussions, for example, our use of language and other cognitive processes, such as attention and memory, will diminish.

This may affect our ability to perform many complex cognitive tasks – memory and attention are central to complex cognitive thinking in general.

Treating loneliness

We know that a powerful set of thinking abilities throughout life, called “cognitive reserve,” can be built up by keeping your brain active. The best way to do this is to learn new things, such as another language or a musical instrument.

Cognitive reserve has been shown to mitigate the course and severity of aging. For example, they can protect against a number of diseases or mental health disorders, including forms of dementia, Schizophrenia depression, especially the following brain injury.

This shows a man sitting alone
People who are isolated from others do worse on cognitive tests. The image is in the public domain

There are also lifestyle elements that can be improved Your awareness and wellnessWhich includes a healthy diet and exercise. There are few of them for Alzheimer’s disease pharmacological treatmentsHowever, the effectiveness of these drugs must be improved and side effects reduced.

see also

This shows a child

There is hope that in the future there will be better treatments for aging and dementia. One way to investigate this exogenous ketones – a An alternative energy source for glucose Which can be taken with dietary supplements.

But as our study shows, tackling social isolation can also help, particularly in old age. Health authorities should do more to check on isolated people and arrange social activities to help them.

When people are not in a position to interact in person, technology may provide an alternative. However, this may be more applicable to younger generations who are familiar with the use of technology to communicate. But with trainingIt may also be effective in reducing social isolation in the elderly.

Social interaction is very important. One study found that the volume of Our social group It is actually related to the size of the orbitofrontal cortex (involvement in social cognition and emotion).

But how many friends do we need? Researchers often refer to the “Dunbar number” to describe the size of social groups, and they find that we are unable to maintain more than 150 relationships and Usually you only manage five close relationships.

However, there are some reports indicating a lack of empirical evidence surrounding Dunbar count and further research into the optimal level The size of social groups wanted.

It is hard to argue with the fact that humans are social animals and gain pleasure from communicating with others, no matter how old we are. But, as we increasingly reveal it, it is also important to the health of our cognition.

About this research on social isolation news

Authors: Barbara Jacqueline SahakianAnd the Christelle LangleyAnd the Chun ShinAnd the Jianfeng Feng
source: Conversation
Contact: Barbara Jacqueline Sahakian, Christelle Langley, Chun Xin, and Jianfeng Feng – The Conversation
picture: The image is in the public domain