A group of 79 healthy seniors - 43 women and 36 men averaging 76 years old - were the subject of a recent study to determine levels of amyloid, a protein associated with Alzheimer's Disease. To measure each individual's degree of loneliness, standard psychological exams were used, and imaging scans to detect levels of amyloid.
The researchers found out that people with preclinical Alzheimer's were 7.5 times more likely to feel lonely compared to people who did not have any early warning signs of the disease.
"We report a novel association of loneliness and cortical amyloid burden in cognitively normal adults and present evidence for loneliness as a neuropsychiatric symptom relevant to pre-clinical Alzheimer's disease," the researchers said.
"This work will inform new research into the neurobiology of loneliness and other socio-emotional changes in late life and may enhance early detection and intervention research in Alzheimer's disease."
The study, however, was only conducted in a very small group of adults in Boston. To validate these findings, broader studies including different types of people are needed. Dr. Nancy Donovan, of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, said that compared to the general population of about the same age, their study may have been affected by the better mental and physical health of participants of the research.
Dr. Clare Walton, research manager at the 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."