• None of the senior individuals in the study had a dementia diagnosis at the start
  • Social isolation was found to increase risk of dementia irrespective of race or ethnicity
  • Socializing keeps the brain healthier for longer by boosting cognitive activity

A recent study has found a common social practice that is often overlooked can significantly decrease the risk of dementia. As it turns out, socializing and having a sense of community play a major role in staving off the deteriorating brain disorder in adults. Isolation, on the other hand, significantly increases the chances of developing dementia.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, analyzed the data of 5,000 senior adults, none of whom had a dementia diagnosis at the start.

A quarter of the adults were socially isolated, and this isolation was associated with a 28 percent higher risk of developing dementia. Moreover, the risk remained irrespective of one's race or ethnicity, the study found. The 10 years' worth of data, collected from the National Health and Aging Trends Study, was between 2011 and 2020.

"This is essentially a wake-up call for people who aren't aware of this," corresponding author Thomas Cudjoe, a geriatric medicine and gerontology professor at Johns Hopkins University, said, according to Inverse. "Social connections matter for our health."

There is support for this hypothesis in the literature. Social isolation can impact cognitive activity and people with less cognitive activity are more susceptible to dementia, as per the outlet. Socializing keeps the brain healthier for longer by boosting cognition.

According to a 2008 study, social networks protect against cognitive decline. Separately, constant isolation is linked to physical and mental health risk factors like hypertension, depression, and heart disease that can lead to dementia. The Lancet also listed social isolation as one of nine risk factors for dementia in a 2020 meta-analysis, as per the outlet.

Moreover, being part of a community provides connections such as emotional support and healthcare access, which isolated individuals do not get. Solitary life can cause one's health decline to go unnoticed.

Dementia is a serious issue — it affects an individual's life span as well as the quality of life. Following dementia diagnosis, an average person lives another four to eight years, during which the quality of life tends to drastically decline.

Cudjoe urged that social isolation must be tackled at both individual and systemic levels. Caretakers of elderly family members should be motivated to socialize with them, knowing the role it will play in their well-being. Places like nursing homes can engage their residents with daily social activities.

"My patients are at the center of this work and inform the questions that I asked," Cudjoe told the outlet. "I'm fortunate to have the opportunity to care for them to learn about this."

In welcome news, a new study found that the rate of dementia among U.S. adults aged 65 and older dropped 30.1% from 2000 to 2016. "The reasons for the decline in the prevalence of dementia are not certain, but this trend is good news for older Americans and the systems that support them," lead author Peter Hudomiet said.

A frustrated man
Representation. A man with dementia unable to remember things. geralt/Pixabay