Across the world, around 55 million people are currently living with dementia. With an ageing population, numbers are forecasted to reach around 140 million by 2050. Although no cure is in sight, huge advances have been made in our understanding of the condition, and these days the issue is better publicized than ever. While we can’t stop the ageing process, regular exercise, a balanced diet, keeping weight down, cutting down on alcohol, and quitting smoking are all known to reduce the risk of developing dementia. But increasingly, scientists are pointing to social interaction playing a key role in preventing dementia from taking hold. Spending time with your friends and staying connected can help combat the condition.
Social Skills and Dementia
If you asked someone to name a symptom associated with dementia, chances are they’d say, “memory loss.” Certainly, losing memory is the most common and possibly the most distressing symptom for the sufferer and those around them. What can begin as trouble recalling names, recent events, and people can progress to forgetting how to speak, read, and write. Simple skills like tying shoelaces and brushing teeth can also be forgotten.
However, often the earliest symptoms are social in nature. Sufferers become moody and very easily irritated, while becoming less engaged in social situations. Those with the condition commonly cease taking part in activities or talking as communicating becomes more difficult. They can become very withdrawn as a result. They can also lose their inhibitions, saying or doing very inappropriate things which are utterly out of character. If you see a loved one acting strangely, then it may well be dementia that’s behind it.
The Links Between Social Interaction and Dementia
Scientific research has unearthed a wealth of evidence pointing to social isolation being a major risk factor for dementia. Back in 2005, a 16-year-long study conducted on elderly Taiwanese revealed that taking part in social activity helped to preserve cognitive function. In 2008, research published by Harvard University reported that not only were socially active individuals likely to experience less memory decline, but that the most socially active had half as much memory loss than the most isolated. More recently, a keynote January 2023 report published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that socially isolated older adults were 27% more likely to develop dementia. Clearly, as we age, keeping regular and meaningful social interactions is very important for lowering the risk of dementia.
How Does Social Interaction Combat Dementia?
Loneliness is very bad for cognitive health. A February 2023 report found that social isolation was associated with a range of behaviors likely to heighten the chances of developing dementia. People living with weak social networks are more inclined to smoke heavily and drink excessive amounts of alcohol. They are also more likely to sleep badly and not exercise enough. All are known risk factors for dementia. When we regularly interact with others, we are far less likely to partake in behavior that negatively impacts our cognitive health.
Social interaction also promotes great cognitive health. When we have positive relationships with family and friends, we’re happier, we’re fitter, we have fewer health issues, and we live longer. When we interact with others, we need to concentrate to converse. The brain is an incredible organ, and as we learn new things and make memories, scientists believe new nerve cells are created. This is crucial for healthy brain function, especially as we age. All the things we depend on our brain for – understanding, communication, reason, emotion, and recording memory – need these new nerve cells to be created on an ongoing basis.
The Earlier You Start, the Better
No matter what age we are, we all need to do more to cut the risk of developing dementia. Many believe that we begin our journey towards cognitive decline well before we grow old. The message is: look after your brain! Alzheimer’s Research UK have launched a brilliant (and free) brain check-up tool. It’s suitable for all ages, but is particularly recommended for those aged between 40 and 50. Take a quick test and find out what you need to do to lower the risk of developing dementia.
It’s clear that social interaction plays a major role in preventing dementia. When all is said and done, humans are social creatures. We are not designed to live in isolation from one another.
There are so many things we can all do to arm ourselves against dementia via social interaction. Volunteering and helping in the community are a win-win for both ourselves and the people around us. Attending clubs and keeping fit takes us out of the house and allows us to make new friends and memories.
Reminiscing and talking about our lives are wonderful ways to socialise by sharing memories and stories with those around us. Memory loss is something that we all eventually go through. Writing down your experiences will help provide those around you with a meaningful way to connect with you and your life. It can also help you to easily reference your memories in the future, so you can continue to share your life story and keep your brain in top condition.
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Written by the LifeBook Memoirs editorial team