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2017 Grants - Beam
Biopsychosocial Pathways from Loneliness to Alzheimer’s Disease
Christopher Beam, Ph.D.
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, California
2017 Alzheimer’s Association Research Fellowship (AARF)
How do social isolation and loneliness affect the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and related dementias?
Previous research suggests that having a strong social support system may help reduce the risk of cognitive decline in aging. It is not yet known how lack of social engagement (e.g. social isolation and loneliness) may increase the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Recent studies estimate that about 30% of older people experience high levels of loneliness, but the biological pathways by which loneliness may increase Alzheimer’s risk requires further exploration.
Christopher Beam, Ph.D., and colleagues will use existing datasets from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) and the Swedish Twin Registry (STR) to investigate how social isolation (e.g. size of social network, frequency of social contact, loneliness) influences a person’s risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. The HRS and STR are large, long-term studies that have collected information on aging and Alzheimer’s disease from over 11,000 people. The researchers will determine if social isolation affects cardiovascular health and levels of inflammation in the body — factors which have been shown to relate to Alzheimer’s risk. The researchers will also explore if social isolation affects health outcomes differently in males and females and how this impacts the risk for dementia.
The results of this work could improve our understanding of how social isolation and loneliness may increase the risk for Alzheimer’s, and whether the underlying mechanisms differ between males and females. These findings could lay the foundation for the development of interventions focused on increasing social engagement in those at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.