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.