Social isolation actually changes the structure of the brain, reveals neurovisualization

Why is it noisy to be in large groups at festivals, anniversaries and other social events? According to the social brain hypothesis, this human brain is specially evolved to support social interaction. Studies show that belonging to a group contributes to the well-being and satisfaction of life.

Sadly, many people feel lonely or socially isolated. And if the human brain has really evolved for social interaction, then we should expect that it will have a significant effect on it.

Our latest study, published neurologySocial isolation suggests that changes in brain structure and cognition – the mental process of acquiring knowledge – increase the risk of mental retardation, even in older people.

There is ample evidence to support the social brain hypothesis. One study mapped areas of the brain associated with the social interactions of approximately 7,000 people.

This showed that the brain regions that are consistently involved in various social interactions are closely linked to cognitive support networks, including the default regime network (active when we do not pay attention to the outside world), and the salience network (what we choose). attention), the subcortical network (involved in memory, emotion, and motivation) and the central executive network (which allows us to regulate our emotions).

We wanted to take a closer look at how social isolation affects the gray matter, the outer layer of the brain made up of neurons. Thus, we studied data from the Biobank of the United Kingdom with an average age of 57 for about 500,000 people.

People are classified as socially isolated if they live alone, have less social contact each month, and participate in fewer social events each week.

Our study also included neuroimaging (MRI) data from approximately 32,000 people. This showed that socially isolated people have poor memory and cognitive time, including reaction time, and low levels of gray matter in many parts of the brain.

These areas include the temporal area (which helps process sounds and encode memory), the frontal area (which deals with attention, planning, and complex cognitive tasks), and the hippocampus, the main area involved in learning and memory. In Alzheimer’s disease.

We also found a link between lower gray matter levels and certain genetic processes involved in Alzheimer’s disease.

Twelve years later, there were observations with participants. This showed that the risk of dementia increased by 26 percent in socially isolated but not alone individuals.

Basic processes

Social isolation needs to be further explored in future research to determine the exact mechanisms by which it has a profound effect on our brains. However, if you are isolated, it is clear that you are suffering from chronic stress. This, in turn, can have a profound effect on your brain as well as your physical health.

Another factor is that if we do not use certain areas of the brain, we will lose some of their functions. A study of taxi drivers found that the more they memorized routes and addresses, the larger the hippocampus. If we do not regularly participate in public discussion, language and other cognitive processes, such as attention and memory, may be impaired.

This can affect our ability to perform many complex cognitive tasks – memory and attention are essential for complex cognitive thinking in general.

Coping with Loneliness

We know that a powerful thinking ability called “cognitive reserve” can be created throughout life by keeping your brain active. The best way to do this is to learn something new, such as another language or musical instrument.

Cognitive reserve improves the course and severity of aging. For example, it can protect against a number of illnesses or mental health disorders, including dementia, schizophrenia, and depression, especially after a traumatic brain injury.

There are also healthy lifestyle items that include nutrition and exercise that will improve your knowledge and well-being. There are several pharmacological treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, but they need to increase their effectiveness and reduce their side effects.

It is hoped that in the future there will be better ways to treat old age and mental illness. One way to study this is that exogenous ketones, an alternative energy source to glucose, can be ingested through food additives.

However, our research shows that overcoming social isolation can help, especially in old age. Health authorities should do more to check who is being isolated and organize social events to help them.

When people don’t have the ability to interact in person, technology can provide a replacement. However, this may be more relevant to younger generations who are familiar with the use of technology for communication. However, with training, it can be effective in reducing social isolation in the elderly.

Social interaction is very important. One study found that the size of our social group was actually related to the size of the orbitofrontal cortex (involved in social cognition and emotion).

But how many friends do we need? Researchers often refer to the Dunbar Number to describe the size of social groups, finding that we cannot maintain more than 150 relationships and that we usually cannot manage only five close relationships.

However, there are some reports that the lack of empirical evidence around the Dunbar number and the need for further study of the optimal size of social groups.

It is hard to argue that humans are social animals and that we enjoy contact with others at any age. However, as we become more open, this is also very important for the health of our cognition.

Barbara Jacqueline Sahakyan, Professor of Clinical Neuropsychology, University of Cambridge; Christel Langley, Postdoctoral Fellow, Cognitive Neurology, University of Cambridge; Chun Sheng is a doctoral researcher at Fudan University and Jiangfeng Feng, a professor of science and technology at Brain-inspired intelligence at Fudan University.

This article was republished in The Conversation magazine under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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