August 3, 2019 - 09:45 AMT
Healthy social life could ward off dementia: study

Being socially active in your 50s and 60s may help lower the risk of developing dementia in later life, a study has found, according to The Guardian.

Researchers studied data that tracked more than 10,000 people from 1985 to 2013. The participants answered a questionnaire every five years about the frequency of their social contact with friends and relatives. They were also subject to cognitive testing, and electronic health records were searched for dementia diagnoses.

The results – published in the journal Plos Medicine – showed that seeing friends almost daily at age 60 was associated with a 12% lower likelihood of developing dementia in later life, compared with those who saw only one or two friends every few months. Seeing relatives, on the other hand, did not show the same beneficial association.

The authors suggest that practising using the brain for memory and language during social contact can build so-called cognitive reserve.

Tara Spires-Jones, a professor of neurodegeneration at the University of Edinburgh who was not involved in the work, explained: “Learning new things builds connections between brain cells, and so does social contact. The biology underlying this study is that the people who are socially active keep their brains better connected. If you have a better connected network in your brain, it can resist pathology for longer.”

Clive Ballard, a professor of age-related disorders at the University of Exeter, who was also not involved in the work, said: “There are plenty of other studies that have found that social isolation is a risk factor. The strength of this work is the large population studied, and that the assessment of social contact was done so long before the cognitive assessment bit. It makes the direction of causality much stronger.”

The authors note that the data did not include detail on the quality of social contact, and that dementia cases may have been missed if participants did not present to their GP.