In a recent study, researchers find that self-reported loneliness is linked to preclinical Alzheimer’s disease.
People who reported that they felt lonely had higher cortical amyloid levels in the brain, a marker of preclinical Alzheimer disease.
The study was conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
Alzheimer disease (AD) is a process that moves through preclinical, mild cognitive impairment and dementia stages before it leads to progressive neuropsychiatric, cognitive and functional declines.
Loneliness has been linked to cognitive and functional decline and an increased risk of AD dementia.
In the study, the team used data from a study of 79 cognitively normal adults. They included 43 women and 36 men with an average age of about 76.
They used imaging as a measure of cortical amyloid levels in the brain and a loneliness scale to indicate levels of loneliness.
Of the older people in the study, 22 were carriers of the genetic risk factor apolipoprotein E ɛ4 (APOEɛ4) and 25 were in the amyloid-positive group based on volume in imaging.
The participants’ average loneliness score was 5.3 on a scale of 3 to 12.
The team found that higher cortical amyloid levels were associated with greater loneliness after controlling for age, sex, APOEɛ4, socioeconomic status, depression, anxiety and social network.
People in the amyloid-positive group were 7.5 times more likely to be classified as lonely than non-lonely compared with people in the amyloid-negative group.
The association between high amyloid levels and loneliness also was stronger in APOEɛ4 carriers than in non-carriers.
The researchers suggest that loneliness is a neuropsychiatric symptom relevant to preclinical AD.
Nancy J. Donovan, M.D., of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, led the study.
The study is published in JAMA Psychiatry.
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Source: JAMA Psychiatry.