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Description: Being lonely is not an enjoyable experience and in many ways that I suspect you are aware of or could guess at, it is not good for you either. But how does prolonged loneliness effect your brain and why might it be useful and important to know how loneliness impacts people’s brains? Think about possible answers to both of these questions and once you have your thoughts inn order read through the article linked below and, if you are intrigued about the research article in question then read the research article itself which is also linked below.

Source: What does a lonely brain look like? Study offers new answers, Eric Andrew-Gee, The Globe and Mail.

Date: February 6, 2021

Photo Credit:  Image by Isa KARAKUS from Pixabay

Article Link: or get the research article itself HERE.

So, why might it be important to be able to point to the way that loneliness changes the brain? Well, first it matters that the study in question contained detailed brain scanning data from around 40,000 people, meaning that any consistent differences linked to loneliness will likely be consistent and worth paying attention to. The the age range of the participants (40 to 69 years) is a bit narrow but it contains older individuals which is a group of particular concern in terms of loneliness so that is not a problem. The question of causality is also unclear. Is it that loneliness causes the observed differences if the default pathways in the brains of lonely people or is it that people with that variations in their default pathways are more likely to be lonely? Of course, more research is needed. BUT, the possible links between the observed brain changes and things that lonely people very likely do more of, such as reminisce or imagine or plan possible social connections is very interesting. That finding links very nicely into concerted efforts among physicians in Britain, where the study was done, to encourage the use of social prescriptions, particularly for their elderly patients. Literally prescribing social activities (e.g., taking a gardening class or joining a community group or club) has been shown to significantly improve general functioning among the elderly. In addition, the possible line of enquiry looking at links between loneliness and Alzheimer’s disease is also quite intriguing. We already know a great deal about the impacts of early childhood experiences of social and on physical health, and illness so expanding our research into the health impacts of later life experiences makes sense.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What changes seems to have occurred in the brains of older lonely people?
  2. How and why might those changes occur?
  3. What are some of the possible future implications that we might look forward to if, as the researchers indicate they intend to do, this line of research is expanded?

References (Read Further):

Spreng, R. N., Dimas, E., Mwilambwe-Tshilobo, L., Dagher, A., Koellinger, P., Nave, G., … & Bzdok, D. (2020). The default network of the human brain is associated with perceived social isolation. Nature communications, 11(1), 1-11. Link

Jani, A., & Gray, M. (2019). Making social prescriptions mainstream. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 112(11), 459-461. Link

Jungmann, S., Mistry, P., Conibear, T., Gray, M., & Jani, A. (2020). Using technology-enabled social prescriptions to disrupt healthcare. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 113(2), 59-63. Link

Bird, W., Adamo, G., Pitini, E., Gray, M., & Jani, A. (2020). Reducing chronic stress to promote health in adults: the role of social prescriptions and social movements. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 113(3), 105-109. Link

Gray, M., Adamo, G., Pitini, E., & Jani, A. (2020). Precision social prescriptions to promote active ageing in older people. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 113(4), 143-147. Link

Mercer, C. (2018). Primary care providers exploring value of “social prescriptions” for patients. Link