Scientists study the effects of loneliness on the brain

Many people around us, especially the elderly, are lonely while social distance due to COVID-19 pandemic disease persists, and it is important to understand how isolation affects our health. A new study shows a type of signaling in the brains of lonely individuals that makes them unique in basic ways, based on changes in volume of different brain regions as well as based on how those regions communicate with each other. across brain networks.

A team of researchers examined magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data, genetics and psychological self-assessments of approximately 40,000 middle-aged and older adults who volunteered to bring their information into the UK Biobank: an open access database available to health scientists around the world. They then compared MRI data of participants who reported feeling lonely with those who did not.

The researchers found several differences in the brains of lonely people. These brain displays were based on what is known as the basic network: a set of brain regions that are involved in inner thinking such as remembering, planning for the future, thinking and thinking about others. . The researchers found that the typical networks of solitary people were more strongly wired together and surprisingly, the amount of gray matter in parts of the underlying network was larger. Isolation was also associated with differences in the fornix: a bundle of nerve fibers that carry signals from the hippocampus to the basal network. In solitary individuals, the structure of this fiber pathway was better preserved.

This study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

We use the basic network when we remember the past, look to the future or think about the gift of hypothesis. The fact that the structure and function of this network is positively linked to loneliness may be due to the fact that lonely people are more likely to have imaginations, memories of the past or hopes for the future overcome. social isolation.

“Without missing social experiences, lonely people can be biased toward internally guided thoughts such as remembering or contemplating social experiences. We know that the mental abilities that is centralized by the normal network brain regions, “said Nathan Spreng of The Neuro (Montreal Institute of Neurological-Hospital) McGill University, and lead author of the study. “So this elevated focus on self-reflection, and perhaps imaginative social experiences, would naturally engage in activities based on the memory of the underlying network.”

Loneliness is increasingly recognized as a major health problem, and previous studies have shown that older people who suffer from loneliness experience a higher risk of mental retardation and depression. Understanding how loneliness manifests itself in the brain may be important in preventing neurological disease and developing better therapies.

“We are just beginning to understand the impact of loneliness on the brain. Expanding our knowledge in this area will help us to better understand how quickly it is reducing loneliness in today’s society. , “said Danilo Bzdok, a researcher at the Neuro and Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute, and lead author of the study.