According to new research, the chances of developing dementia can decrease significantly through frequent socializing. Evidence of a link between healthy social interaction and dementia has come to light following a 28-year research period.
Andrew Sommerlad, Ph.D. from the Division of Psychiatry and University College London, is the lead investigator on the study. The study examines the link in more depth and shows us how it can be beneficial.
From already existing research, Sommerlad and his team observed that social interaction could have certain protective qualities when it comes to the brain. It helps create a ‘cognitive reserve,’ it also causes a reduction in stress levels and promotes healthier lifestyles.
Furthermore, long term research points out the decreased risk of neuro-degenerative diseases such as dementia or reduced levels of cognitive decline in people with lively social networks. These long term studies were with follow up periods of up to 4 years.
However, it is interesting to note that the exact cause and effect scenario can go both ways. It’s tough to determine whether decreased social activity increases the risk of or is an effect of dementia.
To answer this question, the researchers conducted this study for 28 years to define the link clearly. They published their findings in Plos Medicine.
Social interaction and dementia under the microscope
First, Sommerlad and his fellow researchers looked at a cohort study called Whitehall II. It had 10,309 participants aged between 35-55 years at the beginning of the study in 1985.
These individuals were studied until 2017. Within this period, participants had to provide information on their socializing six times. The researchers used a questionnaire which entailed questions about relationships, friends, and relatives outside of their homes.
The cognitive status examination happened five times. The checking was of verbal memory and fluency, as well as reasoning skills.
To see whether signs of dementia or neurodegeneration were present, Sommerlad and his team used three clinical and mortality databases.
The Cox regression models were used with inverse probability. These were reconfigured to take into account age, ethnicity, sex, education, health behaviors, marital status, employment status, and socioeconomic status of the participants.
Results point at a negative relationship between socializing and dementia
Results highlighted that having strong social bonds with friends decrease dementia risk. However, relatives do not have the same effect.
An individual who socialized with friends almost daily from the aged of 60 onwards had a lower risk of developing dementia. The risk was lower by about 12%, in comparison to an individual who socialized only one every few months. Hence, a strong relationship between social interaction and dementia exists.
According to Dr. Sommerlad, avoiding isolation and loneliness in your old age is not only good for your mental and physical health but also your cognitive health.
Other researchers say that this happens because social activity is like cognitive exercise, and develops the cognitive reserve. Dementia cannot be stopped from developing, however, socializing delays it and also decreases the significant effects it has on the brain.