In a new study, researchers found that being more socially active in their 50s and 60s predicts a lower risk of dementia in people.
The finding shows the most robust evidence to date that social contact earlier in life could play an important role in staving off dementia.
The research was led by a team from University College London.
Dementia is a major global health challenge, but many cases can be prevented.
Previous studies have found a link between social contact and dementia risk, but they did not have such long follow-up times.
In the study, the team found that social contact, in middle age and late-life, appears to lower the risk of dementia.
They used data from the Whitehall II study, tracking 10,228 participants who had been asked on six occasions between 1985 and 2013 about their frequency of social contact with friends and relatives.
The same participants also completed cognitive testing from 1997 onwards, and researchers referred to these people’s electronic health records up until 2017 to see if they were ever diagnosed with dementia.
For the analysis, the team focused on the links between social contact at age 50, 60 and 70, and subsequent incidence of dementia, and whether social contact was linked to cognitive decline.
They found that increased social contact at age 60 is linked to a much lower risk of developing dementia later in life.
The analysis showed that someone who saw friends almost daily at age 60 was 12% less likely to develop dementia than someone who only saw one or two friends every few months.
The team also found similarly strong links between social contact at ages 50 and 70 and subsequent dementia.
They say that social contact at any age may well have a similar impact on reducing dementia risk.
The team explains that people who are socially engaged are exercising cognitive skills such as memory and language, which may help them to develop cognitive reserve and cope better with the effects of aging.
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.
These findings may help develop strategies to reduce everyone’s risk of developing dementia.
It is important for people to promote connected communities and find ways to reduce isolation and loneliness.
The lead author of the study is Dr. Andrew Sommerlad (UCL Psychiatry).
The study is published in PLOS Medicine.
Copyright © 2019 Knowridge Science Report. All rights reserved.