We know that exercising the brain by doing puzzles, learning a language, reading or engaging in other mentally stimulating activities can lower the risk of Alzheimer's Disease. Now researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago have learned that socializing can help as well. The investigation team is studying 1,138 older adults (mean age 80) in an effort to understand what kinds of activities improve cognition as we age. All the participants receive yearly evaluations that include a medical history and neuropsychological tests. The study group also responded to a questionnaire about their social activities, including going to restaurants, sporting events, playing bingo, taking trips (day or overnight), doing volunteer work, visiting friends or relatives, attending religious services or participating in group activities (the researchers gave the Knights of Columbus as an example). The study has shown that the participants who were most socially active experienced only one quarter of the cognitive decline over an average of five years as those who were least active socially. In analyzing their results, the researchers took into consideration other factors that could have influenced cognitive decline and tried to rule out the possibility that cognitive decline leads to avoidance of social activity, rather than the other way around.
My take? Throughout life, connections to others are vital to our health and well being. I believe that we are not meant to be all alone, but rather parts of bigger families, bands, and tribes. We are naturally communal beings and derive great satisfaction from the experience of belonging to a group with a common purpose. I'm happy to know that the Rush study confirmed what many of us know intuitively - that it is better (at any age) to maintain our connections with others than to isolate ourselves. As we age, the more stimulation we receive - intellectual and social - the greater our chances of keeping our minds, and memories, as sharp as they are today.
Learn more: Eight Ways to Connect