Because social isolation is a real disease, which changes our brain and makes life worse

The risks of isolation are far worse than we think: a large study explains that it can lead to the reduction of cognitive faculties, up to dementia


When we are in a group, with friends, at a concert, at a public event, we tend to be excited. Because? Yes, a concert can be exciting, but it’s not this: we don’t feel good about the content of the events but because iThe human brain has evolved specifically to support social interactions. And belonging to a group can lead to improved well-being and greater life satisfaction. In reverse, social isolation ends up changing the structure of our brain and to worsen the quality of life. An international study (UK and China) explains this scientifically, highlighting the risks of isolation.

The consequences of isolation

The study, published in Neurology, saw the researchers use the large amount of data stored in the British Biobank, starting with the theory that if the human brain has evolved for social interaction, we should expect that loneliness significantly affects. The results of the analysis of data on the brains of 500,000 people were compared with those of previous studies on mapping the brain regions of 32,000 people using MRI, and indeed show that social isolation is linked to changes in brain structure. . But there is more: loneliness also causes a degeneration of the cognitive faculties and it even carries an increased risk of dementia in older adults.

Fundamental is the fact that the brain regions involved in different social interactions they are strongly linked to networks that support the understanding of concepts and emotions.
People who have been classified as socially isolated (those who lived alone, had little social contacts and participated in few social activities) are those with the lowest cognitive faculties: memory, reaction times and gray matter volume in many parts of the brain are lower to those of those who instead led a more socially active life.

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Fight against social isolation

The temporal region (which processes sounds and helps encode memory), the frontal lobe (involved in attention, planning, and complex cognitive tasks), and the hippocampus (key area involved in learning and memory) are the more damaged by insulation. And the risk of dementia increases: 12 years after the first analysis, the participants are socially isolated revealed a 26% increased risk of dementia.

It is clear that those who are isolated are likely to suffer from chronic stress, with a strong impact on the brain and physical health.
Social isolation is therefore a key factor for human health and it deserves further in-depth studies to investigate the exact mechanisms underlying its effects on our brains.

The authors indicate some avenues for prevention: a healthy diet, exercise, development of better treatments for aging and dementia. But also the construction of a solid “cognitive reserve”, that is to learn new things, such as another language or the study of a musical instrument, to keep the brain active.
And, above all, the fight against social isolationespecially in old age, by the health authorities.