A Healthy Social Life Improves Cognitive Function

Stay social to stay sharp.

If you thought your social life was all fun and games, it turns out that it happens to be good for your health, too. In fact, new research indicates that engaging in frequent social activity may help to prevent or delay cognitive decline in old age.[1]

In a study at Rush University Medical Center, over 1,100 older adults participated in the Rush Memory and Aging Project, an ongoing longitudinal study designed to examine common chronic conditions of aging. The results were twofold—social inactivity appeared to lead to cognitive impairment, whereas a vibrant social life seemed to reduce the rate of cognitive decline. Individuals with the highest levels of social activity experienced only 25 percent of the rate of cognitive decline compared to those with the least amount of social activity.

These results serve to substantiate those of an earlier Taiwanese study that found that individuals who participated in one or two social activities failed 13 percent fewer cognitive tests than those with no social activities and individuals who participated in three or more social activities failed 33 percent fewer cognitive tests than their counterparts.[2]

Both studies adjusted for other variables such as age, physical exercise, and overall health.

The implications of this research are nothing short of profound and serve to validate what many of us seem to intuitively know—we need each other. We are social creatures by nature and it turns out, this social activity does more than help us to feel connected and uplifted—it stimulates complex thinking.

Crossword puzzles have received all the glory for maintaining cognitive function as we age, but now we know that there is no single magic bullet. If you want to stay vibrant and sharp as you age, stay involved in your social network. Join a group, attend church, visit friends—anything to stay connected. It may be your best defense against declining cognitive function as you age. More important—it will probably be a lot more fun than that crossword puzzle.

References:

[1] James BD, Wilson RS, Barnes LL, et al. Late-life social activity and cognitive decline in old age. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society. 2011; 1 DOI: 10.1017/S1355617711000531

[2] Glei DA, Landau DA, Goldman N, et al. Participating in social activities helps preserve cognitive function: An analysis of a longitudinal, population-based

study of the elderly. International Journal of Epidemiology. 2005; 34: 864-871.

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