Social networks and physical functioning in multiple sclerosis

Takeaway

  • Larger networks of loosely clustered acquaintances were associated with better physical functioning in multiple sclerosis (MS), whereas smaller, tight-knit groups of family and friends were associated with worse physical functioning.

Why this matters

  • Environmental factors, like cigarette smoking, physical inactivity and high body mass index, play a key role in the risk of disability in MS; so too may a person’s social environment.

  • There is a potential biological effect of social isolation on the immune system resulting in expression of immune-related genes and proinflammatory effects.

  • People with MS are commonly affected by isolating disruptions to their social networks, including loss of employment, withdrawal from leisure activities, and divorce; as physical disability worsens, people may experience home confinement and reduced ability to access complex social activities.

  • Examining social networks as a factor influencing MS outcomes like physical functioning is important.