Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. About a third of people 85 and older show signs of the disease. The genes you get from your parents play a part at this age, but so do things like diet, exercise, and your social life.
A recent study shows that staying socially active may protect against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in later life. This gives us another reason to encourage connected communities and find ways to reduce isolation and loneliness.
The research team from University College London used data from a study of 10,228 people who had been asked six times between 1985 and 2013 about how much contact they had with friends and family. These individuals completed cognitive tests beginning in 1997. The researchers also studied their electronic health records until 2017 to see whether they ever had received dementia diagnoses. And they came to the conclusion that family and friends are a must.
Increased social contact at age 60 is associated with a significantly lower risk of developing dementia later in life. Someone who saw his or her friends almost daily at age 60 was 12% less likely to develop dementia than someone who only saw one or two friends every few months, according to study results. The investigators said they found similarly strong associations between social contact at ages 50 and 70 and subsequent development of dementia.
How Does Social Contact Reduce Dementia Risk?
Here are three reasons why socializing may reduce dementia risk:
- People who are socially engaged are exercising cognitive skills such as memory and language, which may help them to develop cognitive reserve. This may not stop their brains from changing, but it may delay any symptoms of dementia.
- Spending more time with friends is good for a person’s mental wellbeing and helps you remain physically active. Both mental health and exercise can reduce the risk of developing dementia.
- We are social creatures and thrive best when we interact with others. Make sure you put in the effort to keep your old friends and make new ones.