Health experts have noted several effects associated with the social disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the majority of these appear to be adverse, a new paper published in the journal Nature Communications has documented boosts to regions of the brain responsible for creativity.
More specifically, the researchers determined that gray matter in the default network of the brain was higher in volume among patients that identified as lonely on a regular basis.
There also seems to be data to suggests that extended periods of isolation may negatively affect social cognition and memory retention. This appeared to be especially true of older populations.
“Humans survive and thrive through social exchange. Yet, social dependency also comes at a cost. Perceived social isolation, or loneliness, affects physical and mental health, cognitive performance, overall life expectancy, and increases vulnerability to Alzheimer’s disease-related dementias. Despite severe consequences on behavior and health, the neural basis of loneliness remains elusive. Using the UK Biobank population imaging-genetics cohort (n = ~40,000, aged 40–69 years when recruited, mean age = 54.9), we test for signatures of loneliness in grey matter morphology, intrinsic functional coupling, and fiber tract microstructure.”
The reasoning pertains to mindfulness. The longer one spends alone, the higher the likelihood that they will begin to think inwards. There is also something to be said about the need to try to entertain oneself with a deficit of bars and recreational industries.
During this process, neurological systems linked to creativity strengthen while others involved with interacting with others deteriorate.
“The loneliness-linked neurobiological profiles converge on a collection of brain regions known as the ‘default network’. This higher associative network shows more consistent loneliness associations in grey matter volume than other cortical brain networks,” the authors continued. “Lonely individuals display stronger functional communication in the default network, and greater microstructural integrity of its fornix pathway.”
More research needs to be conducted to determine the influence the data above has on those genetically predisposed to develop dementia-related illnesses.
“There’s still a lot of other factors that need to be examined, like how does loneliness interact with APOE-4 genotype,” said lead study author Nathan Spreng, associate professor of neurology at McGill University in Montreal in a media release.
“This first study was really important in terms of identifying what parts of the brain are impacted by loneliness,” he said. “We’re using that information and we’re following a large sample of older adults. We’re seeing how their brain ages over multiple years, and how their experience of loneliness might actually accelerate atrophy patterns.”
To supplement normal social interactions, researchers recommend engaging in virtual platforms like Zoom and Google meet in the event outdoor festivities are deemed too risky.