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Nat Rev Neurol. 2016 Oct;12(10):605-12. doi: 10.1038/nrneurol.2016.119. Epub 2016 Sep 12.

Social networks and neurological illness.

Author information

Department of Neurology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, 45 Francis Street and at the Network Science Institute, Northeastern University, 177 Huntington Avenue, 11th Floor, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.
Center for Public Health Systems Science, George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Washington University in St. Louis, Campus BOX 1196, One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, Missouri 63130, USA.
Program in Physical Therapy, Washington University School of Medicine, Campus Box 8502, 4444 Forest Park Avenue, Suite 1101, St. Louis, Missouri 63110, USA.
Department of Neurology, Washington University School of Medicine, Campus Box 8111, 660 South Euclid Avenue, St. Louis, Missouri 63110, USA.


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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