Social activity in middle age keeps dementia at bay

Maintaining social links throughout middle age could help to lower the risks of developing the disease, according to an article by Jason Goodyer in BBC Science Focus. August, 2019.

There are currently around 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, with estimates by the Alzheimer’s Society indicating this could soar to more than 2 million by 2051. There is currently no cure but maintaining social links throughout middle age could help to lower the risks of developing the disease, a study at University College London suggests.

The team analysed data collected between 1985 and 2013 about their frequency of contact with friends and relatives. They then checked the electronic health records of the same patients up to 2017 for dementia diagnoses.

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They found that those that saw friends and relatives almost daily at the age of 60 were around 12 per cent less likely to develop dementia than someone who only saw one or two friends every few months.

They found a similar but less strong effect in the degree of social contact in those aged 50 and 70 and subsequent dementia.

“People who are socially engaged are exercising cognitive skills such as memory and language, which may help them to develop cognitive reserve – while it may not stop their brains from changing, cognitive reserve could help people cope better with the effects of age and delay any symptoms of dementia,” said Professor Gill Livingston. “Spending more time with friends could also be good for mental wellbeing, and may correlate with being physically active, both of which can also reduce the risk of developing dementia.”

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Jason Goodyer is the commissioning editor of BBC Science Focus magazine. He has a MSc in Physics.Commissioning editor, BBC Science Focus


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