The unwanted loneliness It produces great emotional discomfort and can contribute to the appearance of health problems. Various studies have associated the feeling of loneliness with the development of some types of dementia – Alzheimer’s, or vascular or frontotemporal dementia – such as one carried out by the University of Cambridge, and now research has shown that there is also a relationship between loneliness and Parkinson’s disease (EP).
The study was developed by researchers at Florida State University in Tallahassee who wanted to determine if loneliness is associated with the risk of suffering from Parkinson’s, and if this link is independent of other risk factors or is influenced by other aspects such as age, sex and the genetic predisposition of the individual.
Antonio Terraccianoprofessor at the Florida State University College of Medicine and first author of the study, had already published other research in which he related a personality trait characterized by the tendency to experience negative emotions and a greater vulnerability to stress that is known such as neuroticism with a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s.
“It may be that loneliness makes the brain more susceptible to neurodegeneration, which for some people could lead to Alzheimer’s disease and, for others, Parkinson’s disease.”
The results of the research have been published in JAMA Network and its authors used data from 491,603 UK Biobank participants who were between 38 and 73 years old (mean age 56 years) and who at the beginning of the study had not been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. A single question was used to assess loneliness at baseline, and incident PD was determined through medical records over 15 years (between March 2006 and October 2021).
About 19% of study participants reported feeling lonely. During follow-up, 2,822 participants developed PD. The researchers investigated whether the association between loneliness and PD was moderated by age, sex, or genetic risk, and whether the association was due to sociodemographic, behavioral, mental, physical, or social factors, or genetic risk.
The results showed that people who reported feeling lonely had a higher risk of Parkinson’s disease, regardless of demographic and socioeconomic factors, social isolation, genetic risk and physical and mental health. Depending on their habits (smoking, sedentary lifestyle and other variables) the risk went from 30% more likely to 15% if they had healthier routines.
Feeling alone could enhance neurodegeneration
“We show that there is an association between loneliness and the development of Parkinson’s disease, not that loneliness causes Parkinson’s disease,” explained Dr. Ángela Sutin, professor in the department of behavioral sciences and social medicine at the Faculty of Medicine. Medicine at Florida State University in Tallahassee and lead author of the study, speaking to U.S. News.
“We found that clinical and behavioral pathways account for a small part of the association. The association could be due to other clinical and behavioral factors that we did not consider,” he added. “There could also be metabolic, inflammatory, neuro and endocrine pathways.”
The researcher considers that there may be multiple factors related to loneliness and involved in the appearance of PD, and points out that “it may be that loneliness makes the brain more susceptible to neurodegeneration, which for some people could lead to the disease.” Alzheimer’s and, to others, Parkinson’s disease.
In any case, the authors conclude that their study “found that people who felt lonely had a higher risk of PD, regardless of established genetic and behavioral, social and clinical risk factors,” and that “this study adds evidence on the detrimental health impact of loneliness and supports recent findings on the protective and healing effects of personally meaningful social connection.”
Furthermore, although the causes why loneliness favors the appearance of Parkinson’s have not been found, it should be a factor to take into account in the prevention of this disease, since the first survey on loneliness carried out in the European Union revealed that 13% of those surveyed reported experiencing this feeling frequently.