Loneliness Associated With Memory Degradation

Loneliness Associated With Memory Degradation

Human memory is short. And we would do well to remember that, say researchers at the University of Missouri- Columbia. Their study on the storage capacity of the conscious mind or working memory caps the limit at a mere three or four.


Working memory is a more active version of short-term memory, which refers to the temporary storage of information. Working memory relates to the information one can pay attention to and manipulate.

Loneliness is complex and is associated with multiple, interrelated factors. For the older people interviewed for this research, its origins can be traced to experiences throughout the life course. For some people, loneliness may be linked to recent events (such as widowhood, homelessness or moving home), while for others the causes of loneliness may be rooted in earlier experiences that accompanied them into later life.

A study by University College London suggested that loneliness is a psychological experience related to social isolation and perceived lack of companionship, and may be relevant to health risk. Loneliness is a psychological experience with potentially adverse effects on biological stress processes that may be relevant to health.

Some of the biggest risk factors for memory problems caused by small strokes include age, high blood pressure, diabetes and a condition called left ventricular hypertrophy (a thickening of the heart muscle). Other stroke risk factors include smoking, excessive alcohol use, high cholesterol, obesity and a type of irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation.

The Department of Society, Human Development, and Health at Harvard School of Public Health has conducted a study on the elderly and has found some interesting facts. Their research, published in the American Journal of Public Health, underlines the importance of social integration in preventing memory loss.

The Health and Retirement Study has looked at 16,638 Americans over 50 for 6 years. Even though at the start of the test period people with high social integration and low social integration had similar memory scores that changed in a few years. Those who were lonelier were associated with a memory degradation twice that of those who socialized frequently.

"Our results suggest that increasing social integration may be an important component of efforts to protect older Americans from memory decline," the authors wrote in the May 29 online edition of the American Journal of Public Health.

“Social participation and integration have profound effects on health and well-being of people during their lifetimes. We know from previous studies that people with many social ties have lower mortality rates. We now have mounting evidence that strong social networks can help to prevent declines in memory. As our society ages and has more and more older people, it will be important to promote their engagement in social and community life to maintain their well-being,” said Lisa Berkman from HSPH.

Also, recently, researchers found out evidence that painkillers such aspirin and ibuprofen lower the chance to develop Alzheimer’s disease. The new research examined data from six studies involving 13,499 people without dementia and concluded that those who used aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin and other brands) and naproxen (Aleve and other brands), all known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), had a 23 percent lower risk for Alzheimer’s compared with people who did not use these drugs.

Similar evidences:

Older people’s experiences of social isolation and loneliness; states and events throughout the life course that may contribute to loneliness; older people’s perceptions of solutions to isolation and loneliness; and barriers to alleviating isolation and loneliness.

A joint study by Carnegie Mellon University, University of British Columbia, University of Pittsburgh, University of Rochester and Carnegie Mellon University investigated on antibody response to the influenza immunization in 83 1st-semester healthy university freshmen. Elevated levels of loneliness throughout the semester and small social networks were independently associated with poorer antibody response to 1 component of the vaccine.

Those with both high levels of loneliness and a small social network had the lowest antibody response. Loneliness was also associated with greater psychological stress and negative affect, less positive affect, poorer sleep efficiency and quality, and elevations in circulating levels of cortisol. However, only the stress data were consistent with mediation of the loneliness–antibody response relation. None of these variables were associated with social network size, and hence none were potential mediators of the relation between network size and immunization response.

Scholars found that lonely people have blood pressure readings that are as much as 30 points higher than in non-lonely people, even when other factors such as depressive symptoms or perceived stress are taken into account, said Louise Hawkley, Senior Research Scientist with the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, and John Cacioppo, the Tiffany & Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology.

A study published by the American Academy of Family Physicians found that loneliness was correlated with cognitive decline and the development of dementia that was similar to Alzheimer's disease. This was true even when controlling for social isolation and other study variables.

Another study found that lonely individuals may be twice as likely to develop the type of dementia linked to Alzheimer's disease in late life as those who are not lonely, according to an article in the issue of Archives of General Psychiatry. “If loneliness is causing changes in the brain, it is quite possible that medications or changes in behavior could lessen the effects of these negative emotions and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” study concluded.

A joint study by Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, Ill and University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia found that loneliness is associated with an increased risk of late-life dementia but not with its leading causes. It was published in the journal of Arch Gen Psychiatry.

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