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.