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Older people who socialise are ‘less likely to develop dementia’

A study carried out in America has found that older people who are more carry out lots of social engagements have found the area of their brain, which is commonly associated with dementia, is healthier.

The team from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health who led the findings said it might be beneficial in the future for doctors to “prescribe” socialising in a bid to keep people’s minds active.

They think their findings suggest that in the same way exercise and a good diet can help prevent heart disease or type 2 diabetes, socialising could be just as good for the brain.

Lead author Dr Cynthia Felix, a geriatrician and a post-doctoral associate in Pitt Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology, said: “Our data were collected before the COVID-19 pandemic, but I believe our findings are particularly important right now, since a one-size-fits-all social isolation of all older adults may place them at risk for conditions such as dementia.

“Older adults should know it is important for their brain health that they still seek out social engagement in safe and balanced ways during the pandemic.”

The study involved nearly 300 people aged just over 80, who were asked to record all their social engagements.

All of the participants received a sensitive brain scan which measured a specific part of the organ.

They discovered that the people who were more socially active had healthier brains in the areas that were associated with dementia. The findings have shown that brain health is hugely important among older individuals because once brain cells die, dementia typically develops.

Socialise in the forum

Dr Felix added: “We need to do more research on the details, but that’s the beauty of this – social engagement costs hardly anything, and we do not have to worry about side-effects. There is no cure for dementia, which has tremendous costs in terms of treatment and caregiving. Preventing dementia, therefore, has to be the focus. It’s the ‘use it or lose it’ philosophy when it comes to the brain.”

The research paper has been published in the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences.

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