Study reveals that social isolation enhances dementia risk factors – mid-day.com
Social lifestyle determinants, including social isolation, are associated with neurodegeneration risk factors, according to a new study published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Kimia Shafighi of McGill University, Canada, and colleagues
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Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) is a growing public health crisis, with an annual global cost of more than $1 trillion US. There has been increasing evidence that social isolation is associated with an increased risk of ADRD, but the links between social lifestyle and other known ADRD risk factors are less well understood.
In the new work, the researchers studied data on 502,506 UK Biobank participants and 30,097 people enrolled in the Canadian Longitudinal Study of Aging. Both studies had questionnaires that included questions about loneliness, frequency of social interaction and social support.
The study found a large array of associations between potentially modifiable ADRD risk factors and both loneliness and lack of social support. Individuals who smoked more, excessively drank alcohol, experienced sleep disturbances, and failed to frequently participate in light to vigorous physical activities — all known risk factors for ADRD — had greater odds of being lonely and lacking social support. For instance, in the CLSA, increased regular participation in physical exercise with other people was associated with a 20.1% decrease in the odds of feeling lonely and 26.9% decrease in having poor social support.
Physical and mental health factors previously linked to ADRD, such as cardiovascular disease, vision or hearing impairment, diabetes and neurotic and depressive behaviours, were also associated with both subjective and objective social isolation. In the UKBB, for instance, difficulty to hear with background noise corresponded to a 29.0% increase in the odds of feeling lonely and a 9.86% increase in the odds of lacking social support. The odds of feeling lonely and lacking social support were also 3.7 and 1.4 times greater, respectively, as a function of a participant’s score for neuroticism.
The authors conclude that social isolation, which can be modified more easily than genetic or underlying health risk factors, might be a promising target for preventive clinical action and policy interventions.
The authors add: “Given the uncertain impact of social distancing measures imposed by COVID-19, our findings underscore the importance of investigating the multiscale effect of social isolation to inform public health interventions for ADRD.”
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Marburg virus outbreak in two African countries
Early this year, Equatorial Guinea and Tanzania reported outbreaks of Marburg virus disease (MVD), the first-ever outbreak of the disease in these countries. As the countries respond to the outbreaks through contact tracing and restricting movement across affected regions, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated the risk of spread of the disease as “very high” across both countries.
The Marburg virus was first identified in 1967 during outbreaks in Germany and Serbia and is known to cause severe and fatal viral haemorrhagic fevers in humans.
The virus is closely related to another deadly virus, Ebola and is rated as a high-risk pathogen by the WHO. Marburg virus is transmitted to humans through contact with infected animals such as fruit bats, and further human-to-human transmission can occur through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected patient or contaminated surfaces resulting in outbreaks.
Since its initial detection in 1967, several outbreaks of Marburg virus have been detected between 1975 and 2023, with African countries being the most affected and often with high fatality rates up to 90%, depending on the early access to quality care.
In recent years, and for the first time, isolated cases have been reported in Guinea and Ghana in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
An outbreak of unknown haemorrhagic fever linked to a funeral ceremony was reported from Equatorial Guinea on February 7, 2023, which was later confirmed as Marburg virus on February 13 by the WHO. A month later, Tanzania reported an outbreak of MVD on March 21, after the detection of eight suspected cases, five of which were fatal. The genome sequence of a Marburg virus from Equatorial Guinea was quickly made available in public domain by researchers. The sequence shows high similarity with Marburg virus genomes previously found in fruit bats, suggesting a potential zoonotic origin.
Is there a concern?
There are no approved vaccines, antivirals or monoclonal antibodies for Marburg virus yet and supportive care to manage symptoms and prevent complications forms the mainstay. However, the WHO aims to accelerate trials of some investigational vaccines. Case detection through contact tracing, molecular diagnosis and quarantine is central to managing the spread of the disease.
While the two outbreaks have triggered a rapid res- ponse to control the spread, the outbreak in Equatorial Guinea has spread to multiple provinces and has even crept into a populous city, Bata. Equatorial Guinea has, so far, reported a total of 35 con- firmed cases and 27 deaths. The large geographic spread of the infection in the country and the unidentified epidemi- ological links between many of the reported cases suggest a wider range of transmission of the virus.
The large geographic spread of the infection in the country and the unidentified epidemiological links between many of the reported cases suggest a wider range of transmission of the virus.
As the affected countries continue to make efforts to contain the disease and another country, Burundi, investigates a suspected outbreak of viral haemorrhagic fever, surveillance of emerging viral diseases is crucial to help early detection, monitoring the circulation and evolution, and develop effective diagnostics, prevention and control measures.
It is only natural that the concept of One Health is increasingly taking centre-stage.
(The authors are researchers at the CSIR Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, New Delhi. All opinions expressed are personal)
A glass of wine or beer per day is fine for your health: new study
A new Canadian study of 4.8 million people says a daily alcoholic drink isn’t likely to send anyone to an early grave, nor will it offer any of the health benefits touted by previous studies, even if it is organic red wine.
Low and moderate drinkers have similar mortality rates to those who abstain entirely, researchers from the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research explain. On the other hand, women who enjoy more than one standard drink per day are at least 20 per cent likely to die prematurely.
“In this updated systematic review and meta-analysis, daily low or moderate alcohol intake was not significantly associated with all-cause mortality risk,” the study’s authors write, “while increased risk was evident at higher consumption levels, starting at lower levels for women than men.”
Published Friday in the medical journal JAMA Open Network, the study comes on the heels of a report by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) that said Canadians should have no more than two alcoholic drinks per week in order to minimize the health risks associated with alcohol.
Lead researcher Dr. Jinhui Zhao and his co-authors wanted to better understand the link between alcohol and all-cause death, including theories advanced by previous studies that a small amount of alcohol can provide health benefits, and that “moderate drinkers” live longer and are less likely to die from heart disease than non-drinkers.
They reviewed 107 studies from between 1980 and 2021 involving 4.8 million people and found that consuming more than one standard drink per day raised the risk of premature death significantly, especially for women.
In Canada, a standard drink is defined as a 341-ml bottle of five per cent alcohol beer or cider, a 142-ml glass of 12 per cent alcohol wine or a 43-ml shot glass of 40 per cent alcohol spirits. Each standard drink contains 13.45 grams of pure alcohol.
“There was a significantly increased risk of all-cause mortality among female drinkers who drank 25 or more grams per day and among male drinkers who drank 45 or more grams per day,” the authors wrote. “Low-volume alcohol drinking was not associated with protection against death from all causes.”
When they looked at previous studies that suggest people who drink a little are less likely to die early or from heart disease than people who don’t drink at all, they found the evidence was skewed by systematic bias.
“For example, light and moderate drinkers are systematically healthier than current abstainers on a range of health indicators unlikely to be associated with alcohol use, (like) dental hygiene, exercise routines, diet, weight (and) income,” they wrote.
Meanwhile, abstainers may be statistically more likely to experience poorer health, since many have had to stop – or never started drinking in the first place – for health reasons. They also found most of the studies they reviewed overrepresented older white men in their data, failing to account for the experiences of women, racialized people and people from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.
When Zhao and his colleagues adjusted the data to account for these variables, they couldn’t find any evidence that drinking a low or moderate amount of alcohol had any kind of positive effect on life expectancy or heart health.
“Our meta-analysis… found no significant protective associations of occasional or moderate drinking with all-cause mortality, and an increased risk of all-cause mortality for drinkers who drank 25 g or more,” the authors conclude.
“Future longitudinal studies in this field should attempt to minimize lifetime selection biases by not including former and occasional drinkers in the reference group, and by using younger cohorts more representative of drinkers in the general population at baseline.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction or mental health matters, the following resources may be available to you:
- Hope for Wellness Helpline for Indigenous Peoples (English, French, Cree, Ojibway and Inuktitut): 1-855-242-3310
- Wellness Together Canada: 1-866-585-0445
- Drug Rehab Services: 1-877-254-3348
- SMART Recovery: meetings.smartrecovery.org/meetings/
- Families for Addiction Recovery: 1-855-377-6677
- Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868
U of A teaming up with researchers to get people moving in a virtual gym
Game creators at the University of Alberta (U of A) teamed up with their Japanese counterparts in hopes to get more people exercising and having fun in a virtual reality game called Slice Saber.
The U of A said in a recent news release that they’re looking at things like what it sounds like when someone slices through a watermelon with a lightsabre. And after it’s been sliced, what are the physics of the watermelon cut up?
The game is one of many available on Virtual Gym, an exercise platform still in development, where gamers of all ages can slip into a virtual reality headset and try climbing mountains, a wide range of stretching, balloon popping, shooting arrows, or yes, even slicing through fruit that is flying at you in real-time.
The game’s co-creator and computing science professor Eleni Stroulia shared Virtual Gym with counterparts at the Ritsumeikan University, which according to the Ritsumeikan Center for Game Studies website, is the only academic organization in Japan that offers the field of game studies.
“Our Japanese colleagues proposed to make Virtual Gym more enjoyable and motivating for younger adults, which is particularly relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic, where people can be stuck at home,” said Stroulia in the news release.
It’s not just sound that the team is looking to experiment with, either; they’re looking at visual effects as well as haptics, or touch effects, in the game.
Virtual Gym is being developed by a U of A computing science research team led by Stroulia and Victor Fernandez, a post-doctoral fellow in the computing science department. While it is designed to entice people to exercise, it’s also collecting game-play data which evaluates how the player is performing. It then tailors the game to their capabilities.
“In our case, we’re working with seniors who may not be able to go out to exercise, to give them an opportunity to maintain the flexibility, balance and level of activity that is good for avoiding frailty,” Stroulia said.
There is no date yet for when the platform will be released to the public.
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