Even Subtle Loneliness Could Betray Early Onset Alzheimer's

People with high levels of amyloid were far more likely to feel lonely
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 3, 2016 8:31 AM CDT
Even Subtle Loneliness Could Betray Early Onset Alzheimer's
A Los Angeles police officer carries flowers left by a mourner to the front gate of the home of Nancy Reagan in the Bel-Air district of Los Angeles Sunday, March 6, 2016. Reagan died Sunday morning. She was 94.   (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

(Newser) – Scientists have discovered a link between the levels of amyloid plaque in the brains of otherwise healthy seniors and feelings of loneliness, and the connection is strong enough to suggest possible screening. Reporting in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, researchers say that among the 43 women and 36 men they examined, all of whom were healthy and showing no signs of Alzheimer's, people with high levels of amyloid plaque in their cortex were 7.5 times more likely to be classified as feeling lonely, even after accounting for possible contributing factors such as social activity, depression, and anxiety.

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The sticky amyloid plaques are, along with tau tangles, the top signs of Alzheimer's, and can be seen as much as decades before symptoms set in. And while the study doesn't prove cause-and-effect, as UPI reports, it hints at an elevated risk of Alzheimer's among healthy seniors who report feelings of loneliness. "People who are starting to accumulate amyloid may not be as well-functioning in terms of perceiving, understanding or responding to social stimuli or interactions," says lead researcher Dr. Nancy Donovan. So while loneliness doesn't necessarily lead to dementia, it can be a sign of it, suggesting a potential build-up of amyloid plaque in the part of the brain that plays a key role in memory, attention, and perception. (Could Alzheimer's be detectable as early as childhood?)

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