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The Lonely Brain

Loneliness and Brain Health in Midlife and Older Age

About the project

Loneliness represents a prominent population-health issue: More than nine million adults in the UK report that they often or always feel lonely, and 4 out of 10 Norwegians report feeling lonely in their daily life. Epidemiological studies show that loneliness relates to brain health, and that it can double the risk for Alzheimer's disease. Adults over 80 are twice as likely to feel lonely than younger adults. With older age, one is more susceptible to risk factors such as loss of partner and living alone, and most campaigns to reduce loneliness focus on increasing social activity in the ageing population. However, studies also show that loneliness can lead to decline in brain health regardless of how socially active one is, and many can relate to being contented when alone while feeling lonely in a crowd. Hence, there are important conceptual distinctions between objective social isolation, such as living alone, and subjective loneliness, which refers to a sense of lacking desired social contact and belongingness. Loneliness is also a major risk factor for depression, and while the prevalence of loneliness varies with age, the association between loneliness and depression remains stable across the lifespan.


This project aims to investigate what it is that makes people feel lonely, and how loneliness relates to brain health in midlife and older age. By using large international datasets, the study will address the following research questions: I) How do factors that are intrinsic to the individual, such as personality traits, and external factors, such as social isolation, contribute to loneliness? II) To what extent do these factors represent risk for decline in brain health? By increasing the understanding of what it is that makes people vulnerable to loneliness and decline in brain health, the project will contribute to improving preventive interventions and promoting mental health in the general population.


The Research Council of Norway (FRIMEDBIO - mobility grant ) 2019 - 2022.


  • Ann-Marie Glasø de Lange; Melis Anatürk; Sana Suri; Tobias Kaufmann; James H. Cole; Ludovica Griffanti; Enikő Zsoldos; Daria E.A. Jensen; Nicola Filippini; Archana Singh-Manoux; Mika Kivimäki; Lars Tjelta Westlye & Klaus Ebmeier (2020). Multimodal brain-age prediction and cardiovascular risk: The Whitehall II MRI sub-study. NeuroImage.  ISSN 1053-8119.
  • Dani Beck; Ann-Marie Glasø de Lange; Ivan Maximov; Geneviève Richard; Ole Andreas Andreassen; Nordvik Jan E. & Lars Tjelta Westlye (2020). White matter microstructure across the adult lifespan: A mixed longitudinal and cross-sectional study using advanced diffusion models and brain-age prediction. NeuroImage.  ISSN 1053-8119.
  • Melis Anatürk; Tobias Kaufmann; James H. Cole; Sana Suri; Ludovica Griffanti; Enikő Zsoldos; Nicola Filippini; Archana Singh-Manoux; Mika Kivimäki; Lars Tjelta Westlye; Klaus Ebmeier & Ann-Marie Glasø de Lange (2020). Prediction of brain age and cognitive age: Quantifying brain and cognitive maintenance in aging. Human Brain Mapping.  ISSN 1065-9471.
  • Jaroslav Rokicki; Thomas Wolfers; Wibeke Nordhøy; Natalia Tesli; Daniel Quintana; Dag Alnæs; Geneviève Richard; Ann-Marie Glasø de Lange; Martina Jonette Lund; Linn Christin Bonaventure Norbom; Ingrid Agartz; Ingrid Melle; Terje Nærland; Geir Selbæk; Karin Ester Torun Persson; Jan Egil Nordvik; Emanuel Schwarz; Ole Andreas Andreassen; Tobias Kaufmann & Lars Tjelta Westlye (2020). Multimodal imaging improves brain age prediction and reveals distinct abnormalities in patients with psychiatric and neurological disorders. Human Brain Mapping.  ISSN 1065-9471.  s 1- 13

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Published July 3, 2019 1:36 PM - Last modified July 3, 2019 1:36 PM