Public Health

Cognitive Risk Declines with Activity

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According to research conducted at Rush University Medical Center, frequent social activity may help to prevent or delay cognitive decline in old age.

According to research conducted at Rush University Medical Center, frequent social activity may help to prevent or delay cognitive decline in old age.


In a continuing study, 1,138 older adults with a mean age of 80 underwent yearly evaluations that included a medical history and neuropsychological tests. Social activity was measured based on a questionnaire that asked participants whether, and how often, in the previous year they had engaged in activities that involved social interaction. 
At the start all participants were free of any signs of cognitive impairment. Over an average of five years, however, those who were more socially active showed reduced rates of cognitive decline. On average, those who had the highest levels of social activity (the 90th percentile) experienced only one quarter of the rate of cognitive decline experienced by the least socially active individuals. 
Researchers said it is unclear why social activity plays a role in the development of cognitive problems. One possibility is that “social activity challenges older adults to participate in complex interpersonal exchanges. They said that future research is needed to determine whether interventions aimed at increasing late-life social activity can play a part in delaying or preventing cognitive decline.
Of course I am not a scientist but in my work with elders, I have observed is that people who remain socially active have a better quality of life. This is not the first Rush study on the subject.
  • Rush University and Duke University conducted a study that showed people with broad social networks did not manifest Alzheimer’s even though after death autopsy revealed they had the tangles and plaques associated with the disease.
     
  • The American Journal of Psychiatric Health conducted a study that showed that social support helps protect against dementia.
     
  • The Journal of Pain conducted a study that showed social support reduces pain and depression.   

The ironic part is that we are spending less time with each other because of the Internet. Lesson learned.

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