More than half of people over 85 in the U.S. live alone and scientists are starting to unravel how this could be contributing to the onset of diseases like Alzheimer’s. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that social isolation leads to loss of sleep and, over time, this can damage the body’s cells.
During the study, scientists looked at the effects of keeping fruit flies in isolation from the rest of their colony. The fruit flies slept less and the stress this caused to their cells activated a defense mechanism called the unfolded protein response (UPR). In the short term, this protects the cells from damage but over time it can harm them causing inflammation and cell death. Scientists suspect that UPR is contributing to the aging process and diseases like Alzheimer’s and diabetes.
Lack of sleep has long been associated with greater risk of dementia but this is the first time scientists have drawn a link between sleep loss, social isolation and cell death.
Read more about the study here.