OPINION: Social networks and neurological illness

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Abstract |

Every patient is embedded in a social network of interpersonal connections that influence health outcomes. Neurologists routinely need to engage with a patient’s family and friends due to the nature of the illness and its social sequelae. Social isolation is a potent determinant of poor health and neurobiological changes, and its effects can be comparable to those of traditional risk factors. It would seem reasonable, therefore, to map and follow the personal networks of neurology patients. This approach reveals influential people, their habits, and linkage patterns that could facilitate or limit health behaviours. Personal network information can be particularly valuable to enhance risk factor management, medication adherence, and functional recovery. Here, we propose an agenda for research and clinical practice that includes mapping the networks of patients with diverse neurological disorders, evaluating the impact of the networks on patient outcomes, and testing network interventions.

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