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Social activities keep aging memories sharp

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Cognitive decline and socialization

Rush University scientists say forget crossword puzzles for keeping the memory sharp. Instead, get out and go to a party, church, or visit with friends. In a new study, the researchers found activity engages the brain in ways that could prevent age-related cognitive decline.

Social inactivity leads to cognitive decline

Bryan James, PhD, postdoctoral fellow in the epidemiology of aging and dementia in the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center says when people’s cognitive ability declines "It's logical to think…they are less likely to go out and meet friends, enjoy a camping trip, or participate in community clubs. If memory and thinking capabilities fail, socializing becomes difficult.”

Instead, the findings from the study that included1,138 older adults, showed lack of socializing is what leads to poor cognition.

The average age of the subjects was 80 with no signs of decreased cognition at the study start. The research team used 19 tests to assess level of mental function that included episodic, semantic and working memory, perceptual speed and visuospatial ability.

Questionnaires were used to determine how often and what types of social activities the participants engaged with the preceding year. Yearly evaluations that included medical history and neuropsychological testing were incorporated into the study.

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The researchers found, over a period of five years, adults who were more socially active maintained sharp memory and cognitive skills.

Compared to older adults who were not engaged socially, the rate of cognitive decline was one quarter the rate.

More studies are needed to understand how socializing keeps memory sharp and cognition intact says James. The reasons socialization later in life seems to prevent cognitive decline are not understood.

The researchers suggest complex exchanges with others during social events might keep neurons working efficiently. Attending a party, going camping or to church, playing Bingo or just going out to a restaurant are types of social activities linked to maintaining mental acuity with aging.

Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society: DOI: 10.1017/S1355617711000531
"Late-Life Social Activity and Cognitive Decline in Old Age"
Bryan D. James, Robert S. Wilson, Lisa L. Barnes, David A. Bennett

Image credit: Bing