Sick of solitude


The side effects of psychological and physical effects induced by the social isolation that has been imposed by the containment could result in the coming years of health care costs as important, if not greater than, those of the COVID-19 itself, says a researcher from McGill University. More particularly, the deleterious effects of loneliness caused by the measures of distance-physical, could increase the number of diagnoses of Alzheimer’s disease in the wake of the crisis.

In an article published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Dr. Danilo Bzdok and professor at the Montreal neurological Institute and Mila, Institut québécois artificial intelligence, and Robin Dunbar, a professor emeritus in the Department of experimental psychology, University of Oxford, the United Kingdom, remind us of the many deleterious effects on the psychological health but also physical health, that may cause loneliness, which was probably exacerbated by the social isolation that has prevailed during the confinement.

Research has shown that people who suffer from loneliness are more often the victims of cerebrovascular accidents (STROKES) and heart attacks. They are more likely to contract infections and suffer more severely, because of immune defenses reduced. In short, their life expectancy is lower.

“Loneliness affects various physiological systems of the body “, in which the coagulation system and hormonal system involved in the stress, notes Dr. Bzdok. “We know that in people suffering from loneliness, the coagulation system does not work as well as in normal persons. The cascades that lead to clotting are disturbed. These people also exhibit a dysregulation of the cortisol, the hormone of stress “, he says.

“The people who live permanently in solitude find themselves chronically in a situation of stress. The social interaction is so important for the human being, is so crucial for people of all ages, from babies to the elderly, as if there is a deficiency of social interactions as might be the case because of the isolation of solid that has resulted in the containment, these people perceive this social exclusion as a threat. Studies carried out in monkeys, rats, mice, but also in humans, have shown that the brain circuitry involved in the behavior of alert in the face of danger [or the circuits associated with stress] are stressed chronically for individuals who live alone and suffer from loneliness. “, explains Dr. Bzdok.

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However, this solicitation permanent of the circuits of stress ” has consequences on many other things, such as the memory and sleep quality. As sleep is a crucial step in the process of memory consolidation, this last will therefore be potentially affected, among individuals living alone. The fact that people only smoke more and are more likely to abuse substances such as alcohol might also be a link with stress, ” he continued.

Loneliness, of course, has psychological consequences. Studies have shown that people who feel lonely often have a distorted perception, or even wrong from the reality. “They tend to perceive it as more negative emotions and social information conveyed by the facial expression of the person they are watching. And as the face is probably the most effective tool to convey information of social-emotional, if the interpretation of the faces is distorted, this will have important consequences. These people will feel even more socially excluded, which will enhance their feeling of loneliness, ” says the neuroscientist..

Loneliness is associated with several mental disorders, mainly depression and anxiety. “However, we do not know very well if it is the feeling of loneliness that precipitated someone into depression or if it is the depression that plunges him into loneliness,” says Dr. Bzdok.

Loneliness is also accelerating the development of neurodegenerative diseases, in particular Alzheimer’s disease. It “is, on average, diagnosed earlier in people only” than among those who live in the company of someone else. As loneliness has been able to weigh more than usual many elderly people during the confinement, ” it is possible that the rate of alzheimer’s is higher and diagnostic early as before the social isolation that has been imposed due to the pandemic. The side effects of the loneliness engendered by this social isolation could lead to in the years to come costs to the health system that will be as important, if not more, than those arising directly from the COVID-19 itself, and the Alzheimer’s disease may play a large role, ” says Dr. Bzdok, which is, however, a distinction between loneliness and social isolation. “Loneliness is a subjective feeling, which means that someone who is very well surrounded can all the same feel lonely, and conversely that someone who has very few social contacts may not suffer from loneliness. The social isolation is more objective, it can be measured by determining the frequency of social contacts a person has with members of his family or friends. The current situation is that we live in has mainly an impact on social isolation. But it is true that one has more chances to suffer from loneliness if it is social isolation, even if this is not automatically linked, because a variety of factors, including personality traits, come into play. Someone who is extroverted, who lives alone, who does not like Facebook, will be much more at risk of suffering from loneliness “, he says.

“The platforms of modern communications, especially those that have a visual component, such as Zoom, Facebook, WhatsApp, can replace many aspects of normal social life. In a period of crisis and isolation, as now, they help us to maintain a healthy level of social interaction. The social isolation is more difficult, however, for very young children and older people who do not know how to use these tools and which are, therefore, more vulnerable to loneliness due to social isolation than the other ! “, he adds.


No containment wall to wall

The national director of public health, Horacio Arruda, putting aside the idea of imposing a “total containment” in the event of a second wave of the COVID-19 in Quebec. “I think it is sure that this will be the most important thing that is going to remain probably open,” he said on Thursday. If the number of persons reported as positive to the COVID-19 climbs, the public Health, however, could quickly cut short with ” important gatherings “, in addition to put it on pause “parties luxury” of the québec economy, ” said Mr. Arruda. The top official has said worry about the “perverse effects” of the containment, in particular on the mental health of Quebecers. He did not rule out the possibility of making ‘sub-local’, to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

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