According to a new study, from scientists at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, people who have reported feeling lonely can develop Alzheimer’s disease. The study was made with 79 cognitively healthy adults to prove whether the levels of cortical amyloid in the brain, which is a signal of preclinical Alzheimer’s, could be associated with loneliness.
The authors measured the cortical amyloid levels, and they made a loneliness scale to describe the levels of loneliness. Apparently being lonely can lead to cognitive and functional decline and a bigger risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.
“We report a novel association of loneliness and cortical amyloid burden in cognitively normal adults and present evidence for loneliness as a neuropsychiatric symptom relevant to preclinical AD,” explained the study.
Alzheimer’s disease: Dementia affects the lonely people
Alzheimer’s causes about 70 percent of dementia cases. It is a chronic neurodegenerative disease that affects patients as time goes by. Mainly it affects the ability to remember recent events. But as the disease advances, it also causes problems with language, loss of motivation, behavioral issues and inability to manage self-care. As well the functions of the body fail leading thus to death.
What causes Alzheimer’s is not entirely understood. According to researchers, 70 percent of the risks are linked to genetics. However, several factors may accelerate the development of this kind of dementia such as head injuries, inadequate nutrition, and lack of mental exercise.
Now it is believed that loneliness, depression are factors that could make a person prone to having Alzheimer’s. The recent study was done with 43 women and 36 men who had an average age of 76.22 of them (28 percent) had the genetic risk factor “apolipoprotein E ɛ4” (APOEɛ4), and 25 (32 percent) were amyloid positive based on the volume of imaging. The average score for loneliness was of 5.3 on a 3 to 12 scale.
According to the authors of the study, as the cortical amyloid levels increase so enhances the possibility of presenting a greater loneliness. The participants who had an amyloid-positive result were 7.5 times more likely to be lonely. The authors also took control of the participants’ sex, socioeconomic status, depression, and anxiety.
“This work will inform new research into the neurobiology of loneliness and other socioemotional changes in late life and may enhance early detection and intervention research in AD,” the study concludes.
War metaphors used with Alzheimer’s can lead to depression
It is common to treat and approach health conditions as battles that need to be fought and won. Nevertheless, using this kind of approach for conditions that cannot be cured or are not treatable may be counterproductive causing more harm than good to the patient, since it won’t be a winnable fight.
Approximately, 48 million people in the world have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, by 2015. According to Daniel R. George – assistant professor of medical humanities at Penn State College of Medicine – the patients with Alzheimer’s can be affected emotionally if they apply war metaphors in a careless manner. They propose going through some metaphors that are linked to an “absolute win,” to the use of metaphors that encourage resilience.
“If applied in a careless manner, war metaphors can delude our sense of what’s possible therapeutically, and give false hope to people and caregivers who are suffering,” George said.
Using metaphors such as “cure” “prevent” “defeat” have more sense in infectious diseases that are caused by a single pathogen. This can also be because Alzheimer’s can’t be controlled, and that is mainly linked to the aging process, something no one can avoid.
Public infrastructure must be strengthened to improve the approach toward Alzheimer’s Disease
The researchers also highlighted the fact that the drugs used to slow down the process of deterioration caused by Alzheimer’s still focus, and are promoted, on the “attack” of the amyloid in order to “cure” the disease – since it is a fundamental component of the plaques in the brain -, and therefore it is considered part of what causes the disease.
However, according to the study, the presence of amyloid is not directly associated with the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, since it can be found in seniors who don’t suffer from the disease. Therefore, declaring the war to the amyloid is not a right approach. Scientists say that it is important to develop a public infrastructure that promotes the education about the risk factors, investment in social programs that support the care of the disease. As well, people shouldn’t look at patients of Alzheimer’s as zombies, since they are capable of maintaining a life purpose, and meaningful relationships.
“There are ways to construct meaning around memory loss that show greater compassion and solidarity toward people with cognitive frailty rather than seeing them as passive victims in our biological war against the disease,” said George.