Image of an elderly person sat by themselves

Lack of social contact ‘may cause the brain to shrink later in life’

A new study has found that isolation in old age is linked to brain shrinkage – a contributing fact to the development of dementia, according to The Times.

The findings suggested that helping people start social connections could be “beneficial for preventing brain atrophy and the development of dementia”, according to researchers in Japan.

Scientists from Kyushu University in Fukuoka examined 8,896 people with an average age of 73 who did not have dementia and conducted MRI scans and gave them health exams, as reported by the Times. The study also found that the people who answered “seldom” had a lower brain volume than those with the most social contact.

For the people who saw their friends and family daily, the white and the grey matter in their brains took up 67.8% of the total volume within the cranium whilst those who rarely did, the figure was 67.3%.

Dr Toshiharu Ninomiya, lead author of the study, said:

“It’s possible that interventions to improve people’s social isolation could prevent brain volume loss and the dementia that often follows.”

In the same article and in an editorial accompanying the study, Dr Alexa Walter, from the University of Pennsylvania’s department of neurology, wrote:

“Results showed that total brain volume decreased and white matter lesion volume increased with lower frequency of social contact.”

Caroline Abrahams, a director at Age UK said the study could not prove that social isolation directly caused brain shrinkage, but said the findings “do provide us with another reason to prioritise social connection with others as we age”. She added:

“We know that spending time with others is good for our mood and often means that we are getting out and about more, which is also good for our physical health. Now we have keeping our brains healthy as a very good reason to maintain social interactions.”

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