Loneliness has been shown to be a potential contributing factor to a number of diseases, which is why there’s been an increasing emphasis on the importance of maintaining social ties in older age in recent years.
Now an analysis conducted by the University College London (UCL) has looked at the link between social activity and dementia, publishing their findings in the journal PLOS Medicine.
They conducted a retrospective analysis of a prospective cohort study called Whitehall II, which involved 10,308 participants aged between 35–55 years old at the beginning of the study, in 1985–1988.
The participants were followed clinically until 2017, and during this period 10,228 of the above group reported on their social contact six times via a questionnaire which asked them about relationships with friends and relatives who didn’t live in their household.
Participants’ cognition was also assessed five times using “tests of verbal memory, verbal fluency, and reasoning”. Researchers then used three clinical and mortality databases to establish the occurrence of dementia.
They concluded that regular social contact aged 60 with friends, but not relatives, correlated to lower dementia risk.
Looking at this in more detail they found that those aged 60 who saw friends on an almost daily basis, had a 12 per cent lower risk of developing dementia later in life, compare to someone who only saw one or two friends every few months.
Commenting, Andrew Sommerlad, Ph.D., from the Division of Psychiatry at UCL —first and corresponding author of the new study — said,” [W]e’ve found that social contact in middle age and late life appears to lower the risk of dementia. This finding could feed into strategies to reduce everyone’s risk of developing dementia, adding yet another reason to promote connected communities and find ways to reduce isolation and loneliness.”
Senior study author Gill Livingston, a professor at UCL’s department of psychiatry, added, “People who are socially engaged are exercising cognitive skills, such as memory and language, which may help them to develop cognitive reserve — while it may not stop their brains from changing, cognitive reserve could help people cope better with the effects of age and delay any symptoms of dementia.”
Continuing Prof Livingston noted that, “Spending more time with friends could also be good for mental wellbeing and may correlate with being physically active, both of which can also reduce the risk of developing dementia.”