A new study from the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA) at UNSW Sydney has found that spending time with loved ones can have big health benefits as we age.
The benefits include reducing the risks of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), dementia and mortality.
The researchers analyzed the results of 13 international studies which followed people aged 65 years and above over long periods of time.
The study population is more diverse than previous research, which has mainly focused on North America and Europe.
The researchers then analyzed information about the social connections of the study participants.
The study found that good social connections were associated with a lower risk of MCI, dementia, and death among study participants.
Frequent interactions with family and friends and having someone to talk to reduce the risk of developing dementia, while living with others and participating in community activities reduced the risk of dying.
The researchers suggest that social interaction could be linked to MCI, dementia, and death because many other studies have shown that poor social connections are associated with poorer lifestyles and poorer health.
For example, close relationships can have a stress-buffering effect, as we confide in and receive support from these individuals.
Controlling stress is important for the brain and overall health. Another example is that our family, friends, and community members may influence us to take on healthy behaviors.
The researchers recommend that social connection is prioritized to reduce the risk of cognitive decline and live longer.
They suggest that people meet with friends and family at least once a month, take part in community activities such as volunteering or a rotary club, and open their hearts to someone when they feel stressed.
Living with others, for example, in an intergenerational household, is also helpful.
The researchers are now looking at interventions to improve the social connections of older adults, to protect their brains and overall health.
How to prevent loneliness in older people
Loneliness is a common problem among older people, and it can have serious effects on their physical and mental health. It’s important to take steps to prevent loneliness in older people. Here are some ways to help:
Stay Connected: One of the most effective ways to prevent loneliness in older people is to stay connected with friends and family. Regular phone calls, video chats, and visits can help older people feel less isolated.
Volunteer: Volunteering is a great way to meet new people and stay connected to the community.
Older people can volunteer at local charities, schools, or community centers. Volunteering can also give them a sense of purpose and fulfillment.
Join Social Groups: There are many social groups for older people, such as book clubs, walking groups, and senior centers. Joining a social group can help older people meet new friends and engage in social activities.
Adopt a Pet: Pets can provide companionship and a sense of purpose. Older people can adopt a dog, cat, or other pet. Caring for a pet can also provide exercise and a reason to get out of the house.
Participate in Hobbies: Encourage older people to participate in hobbies they enjoy. Hobbies can provide a sense of purpose, and they can also be a great way to meet new people.
Take Care of Health: Poor health can contribute to feelings of loneliness.
Encourage older people to take care of their health by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep. Regular doctor visits can also help them stay healthy.
Stay Active: Exercise can help older people stay healthy and engaged. Encourage them to participate in physical activities such as walking, yoga, or swimming. Exercise can also help them meet new people and make friends.
Seek Professional Help: If loneliness is affecting an older person’s mental health, encourage them to seek professional help. A mental health professional can provide counseling or other forms of support.
In conclusion, loneliness can have serious effects on older people’s physical and mental health.
Taking steps to prevent loneliness, such as staying connected, volunteering, joining social groups, adopting a pet, participating in hobbies, taking care of health, staying active, and seeking professional help, can help older people live fulfilling and happy life.
If you care about dementia, please read studies about how the Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and a new way to predict dementia before symptoms appear.
For more information about brain health, please see recent studies that pneumonia from COVID-19 can increase dementia risk, and these antioxidants could help reduce dementia risk.
The study was conducted by Gowsaly Mahalingam et al and published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia.
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