Socializing in middle age may have profound effect on dementia risk

Adults who want to decrease their risk of developing dementia in their elderly years may benefit from socializing during middle age, according to a new study out of University College London. The researchers used data on more than 10,000 adult participants that had been gathered between 1985 and 2013. After looking at both cognitive test results and social contact frequency, the team found a positive link between the two.

Dementia and Alzheimer's disease is a growing health problem expected to impact more than a million people in coming years, underscoring the need for an effective treatment option...or, ideally, a way to prevent the tragic condition altogether. Past studies have implicated a variety of factors in the development of dementia, including genetics, lifestyle, and diet.

According to a study recently published in PLOS Medicine, adults who had more social contact at the age of 60 were 'significantly' less likely to develop dementia in their older years. For example, 60-year-olds who saw their friends nearly daily had a 12-percent lower dementia risk compared to adults who saw their friends only once every handful of months.

The same positive benefit was also observed in older adults who had more socialization at the ages of 50 and 70 years, though the researchers note that in these cases, the links between the two weren't statistically significant. Despite that, the results indicate that socialization may reduce one's chances of developing dementia, and that may apply at any age.

The study's senior author Gill Livingston said:

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. 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.