Loneliness linked to Alzheimer’s

I read on the BBC news today about a study which supports a previously proposed link between loneliness and the development of Alzheimer’s. It suggests that elderly people are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s if they are lonely.

This is an interesting correlation, particularly when you look at it from a human givens perspective. If you are feeling lonely it’s a sign that you are not meeting an essential human need, or ‘given’ – the need to feel connected to other people. The influence on health and wellbeing from these unmet emotional needs is immense, as we have discussed time and time again.

The ongoing results from the ENA project survey (almost 1900 people have taken it so far) indicates that 28.9% of the UK population feel they are not connected to some part of the wider community. Furthermore, 30.6% feel they don’t receive enough attention and 20.3% feel they are not emotionally connected to others.

When you extrapolate that percentage, it translates to over 17 million people in the UK who don’t feel part of the wider community. It’s difficult to imagine how in a country with such a high population for its size people can be feeling excluded and alone, and I feel herein lies the problem, and perhaps the solution. It’s not distance that separates these people, but limitations imposed by the cultural and social environment they live in.

Posted by: Eleanor

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4 responses to “Loneliness linked to Alzheimer’s

  1. The Alzheimer’s study doesn’t seem convincing to me. The study ruled out the possibility that loneliness could be an early symptom of the disease by post-mortem examination of participants who died. But it’s fairly common for older adults to have some physical brain-changes associated with Alzheimer’s without the changes in behaviour associated with the disease, which means that with the small sample group of dead participants, it would be difficult to draw conclusions about whether they were on the road to Alzheimers or not.

    With the community stuff, I personally see this as people having unreasonable expectations about the amount of ‘connection’ they should feel. Communities seem to grow where there is a need for them. The cultural and social limitations that prevent communities from forming are that there are very few realistic threats around and threats are one of the few things that actually cause people to work together. The lack of community-feeling is a sign that people are, by-and-large, living reasonably comfortable lives and there aren’t many great causes left that people feel a need to band together to pursue. Then again, as someone who’s quite comfortable with not being part of a community and who doesn’t feel overwhelmingly lonely as a result, I may have a bit of a twisted view on this.

  2. Well you’re right – it’s just a suggested link – and there are links between a lot of factors and Alzheimers. I was mainly writing about this to draw attention from a different direction to the importance of social contact, though it wouldn’t surprise me in the least that a lack of the mental stimulation provided by feeling part of wider community should be linked with a decline in mental capabilities and dementia.

    However, I don’t think you are right about community not being necessary sometimes – humans are social animals, obviously everyone has different thresholds for how much social contact they need and can take, and you may well have a lower threshold than most. We are tribal, social creatures, and we are programmed with a force that drives us to share our perceptions with others. The brain itself is intrinisically social – even the most primitive brain regions, the amygdala and the cerebellum are active during social processing. Community isn’t just about drawing together to resist a threat or develop a cause, it’s a human requirement no matter how comfortable our lives are.

  3. Eleanor,
    Thank you for your information! When I get home tonight I plan on bookmarking your blog to keep it in my daily favorites! I will absolutely check it out!
    Thanks for the visit and hope to see you around more!
    ~Sarah

  4. The causes of mental decline in old age are definitely hard to understand. For example, see this: Collision Detection: Study: After 70, being better-educated means worse memory-loss.

    You’re right. Humans are social. But I don’t think that traditional communities are necessarily a good thing. The breakdown of communities (and the replacement of long-standing, unchanging communities with ad-hoc communities that form around specific issues) seems a good thing to me. It frees us from the enforced sociability of survival and gives humans much greater freedom in deciding how to be social. As a psychologist, you’ll know that in-grouping involves adhering to specific behaviours, which can easily (and often does) lead to prejudice, etc.

    Being able to choose your social behaviour, rather then having them forced upon you by a narrow, location-bound community seems like a good thing to me.

    It’s probably also worth noting that the breakdown of communities implies that communities without a purpose other than sociability tend to be fragile.

    Here’s one unanswered question: Are the people who feel not part of communities and emotionally distant, intentionally choosing not to be part of communities in spite of the emotional cost, and if so, what does that tell us?

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