Loneliness is often thought to be an emotional state brought on by a transient situation, such as a long-distance move or the death of a spouse. But some people experience life-long loneliness, and a new study finds this may be – at least partly – due to genetics.
To better understand who is at risk, researchers at University of California-San Diego School of Medicine conducted the first genome-wide association study for loneliness. They discovered it is partly due to genetics, and that environmental and lifestyle factors also play a role.
Previous studies, in twins and both adults and children, have indicated that 37 to 55 percent of loneliness is determined by genetics. But these past studies were small, and a larger sample was needed to reach firmer conclusions, the researchers say.
For the new study, the researchers examined genetic and health information from 10,760 people aged 50 years and older that was collected by the Health and Retirement Study, a longitudinal study of health, retirement, and aging sponsored by the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health.
The survey did not actually use the word “lonely” as many people are reluctant to report feeling that way, but instead asked these three specific questions designed to tease the information out:
- How often do you feel that you lack companionship?
- How often do you feel left out?
- How often do you feel isolated from others?
The researchers are now working to find a genetic predictor – a specific genetic variation that would allow them to gain additional insights into the molecular mechanisms that influence loneliness.
The new study appears in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.
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