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Sunrise Senior Living Blog

Sunrise Senior Living Blog

Active Social Life 'Reduces Risk Of Cognitive Decline'

Study links social engagement to lower risk of cognitive decline in senior citizens According to recent research, an active social life helps to stimulate older people and reduces feelings of isolation and loneliness.

A study carried out by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that staying socially active may positively affect the brain. The findings were published online in Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association.

Social engagement

The Baltimore Experience Corps is a programme that brings senior citizens to schools to mentor children. The researchers randomly chose 111 older men and women, putting 58 in the programme and 53 in a control group. The participants were an average of 67.2 years old and were all in good health.

Researchers took MRIs of the participants' brains and performed memory tests at the beginning of the research, and then again after one and two years. All of the men who didn't participate as a mentor in the Experience Corps showed brain shrinkage, while the male subjects who took part in the programme saw the volumes of their brains increase significantly. The results were similar for the women, as the control group exhibited declines in brain size, while the programme mentors saw small gains.

The findings also showed a direct correlation between brain volume and memory abilities, as the men and women who saw an increase in brain volume over the two years also performed better on memory tests. Meanwhile, when the brains of socially inactive older people shrank, their cognitive functions also declined.

Meaningful work

Although the researchers can't attribute the positive impacts on the brain to one specific element of the programme, she said that aspects such as the light physical activity involved in mentoring at the school and working and thinking in a team are activities that are likely to enhance cognitive function.

"Someone once said to me that being in this programme removed the cobwebs from her brain and this study shows that is exactly what is happening," said study leader Michelle Carlson, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Mental Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "By helping others, participants are helping themselves in ways beyond just feeding their souls. They are helping their brains. The brain shrinks as part of ageing, but with this program we appear to have stopped that shrinkage and are reversing part of the ageing process."

Carlson thinks that daily social contact and meaningful work are essential to staying healthy as older adults age. If older peoople can find local programmes or activities that provide them with purpose, their risks of cognitive decline may decrease. 

Sunrise Senior Living's assisted living care homes provide at least five social activities every day, including outings, entertainment, talks, crafts and hobbies. Many of the events and activities are open to non-residents To find a location near you, contact Sunrise now.

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