By Jacqueline Ahearn | August 27th, 2019
A new study has examined the dementia prevention benefits of social activity in 50 and 60 year olds, finding that a robust social calendar during these years may play an important role in staving off dementia.
Dementia prevention is an increasingly studied field, from studies covering what medications to avoid taking to the role stress plays in raising dementia risk. This recent study, undertaken by researchers at University College London, looked at the role of social activity in preventing dementia.
“[O]ne in three cases [of dementia] are potentially preventable,” said Dr. Andrew Sommerlad (UCL Psychiatry), the study’s lead author. “We’ve found that social contact, in middle age and late life, appears to lower the risk of dementia.”
The finding emphasizes the importance of meaningful community connections throughout a person’s lifetime, but especially as a person grows older. Reducing isolation and loneliness appears to be a critically important step in dementia prevention. Among the study’s most significant findings is that, even after accounting for factors such as education, employment, marital status and socioeconomic status, someone who saw friends almost daily at age 60 was 12 percent less likely to develop dementia than someone who only saw one or two friends every few months. This increased social contact was also linked to general cognitive measures.
The research team used data from the Whitehall II study, which tracked the frequency of social contact among 10,228 participants between 1985 and 2013. The same participants also completed cognitive testing from 1997 onwards, and researchers then studied electronic health records up until 2017 to see if any participants were diagnosed with dementia. Previous studies have found a link between social contact and dementia risk, but did not have as long of a follow-up time.
These findings are significant in developing a clinical understanding of dementia, as well as to understanding how to prevent it. The findings will require further study, including more inquiry into whether social isolation is truly a risk factor for dementia. However, the authors of the study and U.K. health officials are encouraging individuals to get out into the sunshine more often with family and friends.
According to Fiona Carragher, Chief Policy and Research Officer at Alzheimer’s Society, “The Government’s recent emphasis on health prevention is a welcome opportunity to reduce the risk of dementia across society.”