Talking About Alzheimer’s: What Science Says About Socialization Fighting off Dementia
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It’s long been thought that social interaction can help ward off some of the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. But what does the science say?
Numerous studies have been performed in the 21st century to analyze the relationship between socialization and the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. And many of the results have been promising. Below is a brief look at some of the findings.
1. Socializing can improve cognitive function.
In a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, women age 78 and up who had larger social networks and more frequent contact with others experienced less cognitive decline than those with smaller networks and less frequent contact.
It’s believed that a larger social circle acts as a protective barrier to dementia, as regular conversation stimulates the brain and the formation of new nerve cells.
2. Socializing can improve quality of life.
Dementia patients often end up in the hospital with infections and illnesses that result from a reduced ability to perform daily tasks efficiently, like eating, personal grooming and hygiene.
A 2017 study found that people with dementia have twice as many hospital stays every year than senior adults without dementia, but dementia patients with increased social interactions experienced reduced health care costs.
3. Loneliness increases the risk of dementia.
The largest study of its kind included 12,000 participants age 50 and older who were studied over a ten-year period. Those who experienced greater feelings of loneliness were found to have an increased risk of dementia by 40 percent.
Keeping the mind engaged in a meaningful way keeps cognitive function stimulated.
4. Social activities can slow the progression of MCI.
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a condition involving memory skills and thinking that is somewhat diminished. MCI often progresses to Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
Subjects with MCI in one particular study demonstrated a decreased risk of progression to dementia when they actively participated in social activities, such as going to church, volunteering, eating out at restaurants, spending time with family and friends and attending organizational activities.
5. Socializing can reduce agitation.
Agitation is a common symptom of Alzheimer’s and dementia, leaving patients restless, worrisome, impatient and upset. One study found that a dementia patient who engages in just one hour of socialization per week can experience reduced agitation levels.
6. An active social life can delay memory loss.
Memory loss is the single biggest symptom associated with Alzheimer’s disease. But according to a study performed by a researcher from the Harvard School of Public Health, adults age 50 and over with the highest level of social integration exhibited the slowest rate of memory decline over a six-year period and less than half the rate of those with the lowest level of social integration.
Behind the Science
Results from scientific studies are encouraging, but how can the simple act of socializing possibly ward off dementia?
Socializing puts the brain to work in much the same manner as reading, doing a crossword puzzle or other types of games that have also been shown to be effective against dementia.
Having a conversation requires:
- Listening and processing information;
- Assigning a meaning and context to the information;
- Identifying and interpreting body language cues;
- Accessing our memory to extract information relevant to the conversation; and
- Controlling impulses and reactions to maintain appropriate behavior during the conversation.
Socializing allows our brains to work and form connections between cells, keeping those cells stimulated and less likely to die.
There is a lot of talk about various ways to combat Alzheimer’s and dementia. As it turns out, the conversation itself may the most effective one.
Author Bio: Christian Worstell is a health and wellness writer living in Raleigh, NC.