Socially Isolated? Age Faster

African grey parrot (photo by Keith Allison from Wikimedia Commons)
African grey parrot (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

16 December 2014

Early this month I wrote how lobsters don’t age because they have telomerase that repairs the DNA at the tips of their chromosomes (telomeres).  Most adult organisms don’t have that advantage so every time our cells divide our telomeres get shorter. It ages our cells and ages us.

African grey parrots are highly social creatures who are often stressed when they live alone.  It turns out that loneliness affects their telomeres.

In a study published last spring in PLOS ONE, scientists at the University of Veterinary Medicine at Vienna, Austria examined blood samples from captive African grey parrots and compared the telomeres of parrots who lived alone versus those who lived with a companion parrot. (*)

Despite being the same age, solo African grey parrots had noticeably shorter telomeres than those who lived with friends.  The solo parrots aged faster than their peers.

Not only did the study illuminate the sadness of single parrots but it suggests that “telomeres may provide a biomarker for assessing exposure to social stress.” Read more here in Science Daily.

Humans are social creatures, too.  Doctors and nurses know that isolated humans don’t heal as fast or live as long, so when you’re sick it helps to have the care of those who love you … which leads me to an update on my husband’s recovery (see this blog post for news of his accident).

Today it’s been three weeks since Rick was hit by a car in a crosswalk.  He’s making progress though there are setbacks, such as the operation to fix his broken nose.  Fortunately his friends and relatives have rallied to help him (and me).  Rick is a very social creature — more social than I am — so calls and visits from his sister and friends have raised his spirits.

For now my life is circumscribed by his needs and appointments.  I miss birding and hiking alone (I’m not as social as Rick) but I try to go outdoors every day because that’s what keeps me sane.

We are hoping for good long telomeres when this is over.  😉

(photo by Keith Allison from Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the image to see the original)

(*) The parrot news release notes that in Austria it’s illegal to keep a parrot in isolation from other parrots, though some people do.

4 thoughts on “Socially Isolated? Age Faster

  1. Hi Kate, I’m glad that Rick is mending. I’m glad that you both seem to have a support system going. Continuing good thoughts for a full recovery. And strength for you as well.

  2. I have an African Grey, she’s never alone…I also have a Senegal parrot, and a Green Wing Macaw. The birds are separate but they all see each other and interact vocally to each other. We spend a lot of human-bird time w/ all three….I think all my parrots are happy 🙂

  3. Positive thoughts and good wishes are with you as you and your husband tackle his recovery. The trail is waiting for you.

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