Coronavirus Isolation Affects the Brain, Hebrew University Researchers Say

The research shows that there is no substitute for personal interactions with family and friends.

We all know that the Coronavirus has caused not just economic problems around the world, but also psychological ones. People everywhere are under a great deal of stress due to fear of getting sick or seeing a loved one contract Covid-19.

There are also countless people around the world suffering from anxiety and tension due to their personal financial situations have either lost their jobs or their businesses because of Coronavirus shutdowns. Many more are equally tense with fear that they could be the next ones to lose their livelihoods.

All of this is putting a strain on people’s mental and physical strength. But the shutdowns and the social distancing are making the problems worse by denying people of an outlet to relieve the stress.

You cannot go out drinking with friends because the bars are closed. You cannot go to parties or visit your family and friends in their homes.

You can’t get the same release from stress from home workouts as you do by going to the gym.

Jews around the world suffered the loss of their holiday season this fall. Most rely on going to synagogues on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to commune with their fellow Jews in person. In Israel, closures prevented people from traveling to relatives over the holidays.

So what could make this possibly get any worse? Well, researchers from the Hebrew University have found that social isolation harms the very people who are most in danger of contracting the Corona Virus the most. And no, communicating through the internet is not the same thing as in-person contact.

Dr. Shahar Arzy is a cognitive neuroscientist at the Faculty of Medicine and a cognitive neurologist at the Hadassah Medical Center.

According to his research, the physical distancing from other people, and especially loved ones, and, in particular, the social isolation of the elderly, chronically ill, and immunosuppressed, is a serious problem.

“We know that certain populations are more susceptible to the Coronavirus. Yet in an attempt to physically protect them from disease, we’ve isolated them from their social support networks: their friends and families,” says Dr. Shahar Arzy. “This is especially true for retirees, whose social lives largely revolve around seeing people outside of their homes, and those suffering from cognitive impairments, who need external stimulation.”

The research showed that there is no substitute for family and friends. MRI scans showed that people do not react the same way to celebrities as they do to the people who they actually know.

Dr. Arzy’s previous research on Alzheimer’s patients led him to develop a digital application that enables the mapping and quantification of social networks. The group is now working on creating a more extensive product, one that analyzes one’s social network while taking into account the proximity of family, digital skills, nature and frequency of contact, and more. This product will help remind members of a given network when and how to reach out, resulting in an optimized, tailor-made communication plan – based in the social ecology of the person in the center.

“The Coronavirus has disoriented our lives, and we all face insurmountable difficulties. Yet let us not forget those for whom disorientation is part and parcel of their daily lives,” he said.

“At the Hebrew University and Hadassah we have the privilege to be able to help these people through our clinical practice and research. We hope our efforts can contribute, even a little, to the well-being of these vulnerable population, now more than ever.”

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