Social Health Is Associated With Structural Brain Changes in Older Adults: The Rotterdam Study

Isabelle F. van der Velpen, René J.F. Melis, Marieke Perry, Myrra J.F. Vernooij-Dassen, M. Arfan Ikram, Meike W. Vernooij*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: Social health markers have been linked to the development of dementia. We hypothesize that social health affects brain structure and consequently influences cognitive function. We aim to elucidate the cross-sectional and longitudinal associations between social health markers and structural brain changes in older adults in the general population. Methods: Social health markers (loneliness, perceived social support, marital status) were assessed in the Rotterdam Study from 2002 to 2008. Magnetic resonance imaging of the brain was performed repeatedly between 2005 and 2015 for 3737 participants to obtain brain volumetrics, cerebral small vessel disease markers, and white matter microstructural integrity as measures of brain structure. Cross-sectional associations between social health and brain structure were studied using multivariable linear and logistic regression models. Longitudinal associations between baseline social health and changes in brain structure were examined using linear mixed models and generalized estimating equations. Results: Loneliness was associated with smaller white matter volume at baseline (mean difference = −4.63 mL, 95% confidence interval = −8.46 to −0.81). Better perceived social support was associated with larger total brain volume and gray matter volume at baseline and a less steep decrease in total brain volume over time. Better social support was associated with higher global fractional anisotropy and lower mean diffusivity at baseline. Participants who had never been married had a smaller total brain volume (mean difference = −8.27 mL, 95% confidence interval = −13.16 to −3.39) at baseline than married peers. Conclusions: Social health is associated with brain structure. Better perceived social support at baseline was associated with better brain structure over time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)659-668
Number of pages10
JournalBiological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging
Issue number7
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by a Netherlands Organization for the Health Research and Development (ZonMw) Memorabel grant (project number 733050831 ). The study received further funding by the EU Joint Programme - Neurodegenerative Diseases (JPND) in the HeSoCare-call for the project Social Health and Reserve in the Dementia patient journey (SHARED) (HESOCARE-329-109) funded through the Deltaplan Dementia by ZonMW (number 733051082) and Alzheimer Nederland. The Rotterdam Study is funded by the Erasmus Medical Center and Erasmus University , Rotterdam, Netherlands Organization for the Health Research and Development (ZonMw), the Research Institute for Diseases in the Elderly (RIDE), the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science , the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Sports , the European Commission (DG XII), and the Municipality of Rotterdam .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Society of Biological Psychiatry


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