Loneliness may predict Alzheimer’s disease, suggests a new study

A study suggests people who had high levels of the protein amyloid in their brain were more likely to be classified as lonely.

The study was published today (Wednesday 2 November 2016) in journal, JAMA Psychiatry. Amyloid protein forms plaques in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease and this process can start many years before dementia symptoms appear.

The study involved 79 adults aged 65 to 90 years who did not have dementia. Researchers used PET imaging to measure the level of amyloid in their brains, and found it was associated with greater levels of self-reported loneliness.

Of the 79 participants, 25 people (32%) were classed as having high levels of amyloid. These participants were 7.5 times more likely to report being lonely than those who were negative for the presence of amyloid in their brains.  

Dr Clare Walton, Research Manager at Alzheimer’s Society said:

'This study didn’t involve people with Alzheimer’s, but it looked at a protein called amyloid in the brain which is known to build up many years before dementia is detected. Those who had high levels of amyloid were much more likely to say they felt lonely, even when the quality of their social environment was taken into account. These findings suggest that loneliness could be an early predictor of developing Alzheimer’s disease, but as it was a small study, more research is needed to cement these claims.

'Loneliness is a growing concern for our ageing population and we know that too often dementia and loneliness come hand in hand. No one should feel alone but if people are not properly supported, dementia can be an incredibly isolating experience. It is essential people with dementia are supported to maintain meaningful social connections and continue living their life as they want.'