Socializing Appears to Delay Memory Problems

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An active social life appears to delay memory loss as we age, a new study shows.

The finding, which appears in The American Journal of Public Health, suggests that strong social ties, through friends, family and community groups, can preserve our brain health as we age and that social isolation may be an important risk factor for cognitive decline in the elderly.

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health used data gathered from 1998 to 2004 from the Health and Retirement Study, a large, nationally representative population of American adults ages 50 and older. Participants took memory tests at two-year intervals during the study period. Testers read a list of 10 common nouns to survey respondents, who were then asked to recall as many words as possible immediately and again after a five-minute delay. The researchers also measured social integration based on marital status, volunteer activities, and contact with parents, children and neighbors.

The results showed that individuals who in their 50s and 60s engaged in a lot of social activity also had the slowest rate of memory decline.  In fact, compared to those who were the least socially active, study subjects who had the highest social integration scores had less than half the rate of memory loss. The researchers controlled for variables like age, gender, race and health status.

“The working hypothesis is that social engagement is what makes you mentally engaged,” said Lisa F. Berkman, the study’s senior author and director of the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies. “You can’t sit and withdraw if you’re constantly talking and working on things and figuring out problems in your daily life. It’s not just completing a crossword puzzle, it’s living your life.”

The data are particularly important for those caring for aging family members. Simply visiting and giving support to an older family member does not make them socially engaged. “A lot of people when they think about the elderly focus on social support — things like what can I do for an older mother,” Dr. Berkman said. “But having someone to count on is not what we’re measuring. It’s not about support, it’s about being completely engaged and participating in our society.”

What was notable about the study is that participants didn’t have to be married or surrounded by extensive family to receive the protective effect of social engagement. “There are lots of relationships that are substitutable” Dr. Berkman said.

 

Contributor- The New York Times

 

 

Laura Kay House, MA, is the founder and owner of  Silver Connections, located in the Triangle area of North Carolina. Silver Connections provides numerous socializing opportunities through events and travel, personal service, quality members and connections for age 55+, active and single adults.

SILVER CONNECTIONS WEBSITE:

www.silverconnections.org

 

 

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