June 8, 2011

Warding Off Dementia: Reach Out and Touch Someone

Recent research suggests that social interaction is one of the most important keys to warding off dementia. Researchers aren't certain what happens in the brain to produce the positive effects seen among the more socially engaged, but they say it's clear that close relationships and large social networks have a very positive impact on memory and cognitive function as people age.

Here's a quick rundown on some of the recent research results:
  • Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health used data collected from 1998 to 2004 from 16,000 U.S. residents to determine if there was a connection between social interaction and dementia. The results were impressive. People who interacted the most -- with family, friends and others -- were less likely to show a decline in memory. This protective effect was particularly strong among the people who were most at risk for dementia: those who had fewer than 12 years of education and people with blood circulation problems, like high blood pressure or stroke.
  • Kaiser Permanente looked at the effect of social networks among more than 2,200 female members of its California HMO. The participants were at least 78 years old when the study began in 2001.  None showed any signs of dementia at that time. They were given follow-up interviews over the next four years.The researchers found that women with large social networks were less likely to develop dementia than more isolated women. And this pattern proved true even when researchers controlled for the women's age, education, depression, and other health conditions. Women who had daily contact with friends and family cut their risk of dementia by almost half.
  • Warning: Cat lovers skip this one!  Researchers at Oxford University found that highly social animals, like dogs, have developed bigger brains in relation to their body size than more socially isolated species, like cats. Their research indicates that being sociable is associated with greater brain power -- something we dog lovers have long suspected.


Bix said...

Thanks for this.  These little nudges are important.

Macpics11 said...

Hi John,

My name is Charles Macknee, and I just started a new blog here called "NewAging". I have read your bio and some of your writing here, and find it enlightening; particularly since you have journalistic skills!

I am not (yet) a published writer, other than my blogs here and at a site called the Myth of Alzheimer's, if that counts...Someday I'd like to publish a book about my experience working in elder care communities. So of course I would be interested to hear your feedback, especially about my writing; but also about elderhood and both the challenges and wonders of same.

Both my father and grandfather suffered from what I would call a mild form of Parkinson's before and during their end-of-life struggles with cancer. Thus it is likely that I, too, may face a similar challenge in my own elderhood.

During my 20 years of direct caregiving to elders I always tried to be proactive; i.e.- to foresee potential problems before they became actual problems. I try to do the same with myself...

A question for you: In regard to your Parkinson's, are there any "positives" that you have noticed that may have unexpectedly arisen as you have confronted this challenge?

Thanks again for your efforts here, and I look forward to reading more from you!



John Schappi said...

Charlie -- Good to hear from you. I'm looking forward to looking at your blog and will get back with you. Meanwhile, a quick response to your question about any positives resulting from my Parkinson's diagnosis: See my posting about why last year was the best year of  my life