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How socializing helps the brain function better

Posted by Chris Corrigall
Date:

Two women hugging each other.

It’s well known that social interaction is key to cognitive development and function from a young age. However, staying socially active is also very important for seniors, as it can help stave off and slow down mental decline associated with dementia.

Unfortunately, aging adults often find themselves becoming more isolated as they get older due to declining mental and physical health. This is particularly true of people with Alzheimer’s, who tend to withdraw socially as they begin to feel less like themselves, become confused more easily and feel less in control of their lives. In fact, the Alzheimer’s Society reports that people in the early stages of dementia experiencing mild cognitive impairment are at significantly greater risk of social isolation.

“People with Alzheimer’s often withdraw socially and become more isolated.”

With this in mind, it’s important to promote social engagement among older adults before cognitive decline as well as throughout the stages of this form of dementia. Learn more about the effect of social activity on the Alzheimer’s brain and Aegis Living’s initiatives to support social activity:

The science behind the claim

An extensive September 2008 study published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association explored the role of social activity among people with dementia. Researchers from John Hopkins and Duke University assessed 147 pairs of male twins over an average of 28 years, following them for signs and predictors of dementia.

The results showed that participants with greater leisurely cognitive activity in their midlife, including social engagement, experienced a significant delay in the onset of dementia. In fact, social activities such as visiting relatives and friends, participating in a club and attending parties were most strongly linked to a lower risk of dementia, as were cognitive tasks like studying and reading. With that in mind, activities that combine social engagement with cognitive function may provide the best protection against Alzheimer’s, according to the study.

“These activities might be indicative of an enriched environment, which has been shown in animal models to enhance the creation of new brain cells and promote brain repair,” explained study author Dr. Michelle C. Carlson, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center on Aging and Health.

Staying socially engaged later in life is important to delaying the onset of Alzheimer's disease.Staying socially engaged later in life is important to delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Social interaction at Aegis Living

At Aegis Living communities, seniors are immersed in environments that promote social interaction and are encouraged to engage with others. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends that adults volunteer in community groups and join special interest clubs to stay social in their later years, and that’s precisely what Aegis seniors do.

The Life Enrichment program is aimed at improving seniors’ quality of life and helping them find a sense of purpose through daily activities and organized events. Seniors are encouraged to invite friends and family to join them for daily meals and sit for a visit. They can spend an afternoon watching a movie in one of the Aegis Living theaters, reminiscing while walking the landscaped grounds or connect with old friends online via Skype. Additionally, through the Life Enrichment program, residents can also take part in community outreach programs and special interest clubs.

“Aegis Living’s Life Enrichment program promotes social engagement.”

For example, at Aegis on Madison in Seattle, several seniors come together for a bi-weekly fly fishing club. They not only share their knowledge and stories about fly fishing​, but also carve new and meaningful friendships with others who share their interests. Over at Aegis of Aptos, there’s a knitting group that incorporates both Aegis Living residents and members from the outside community. Together, they chat and knit, creating everything from blankets to knit caps that they then donate to nonprofits and charitable organizations.

People with Alzheimer’s in Aegis’ memory care program can benefit from these activities geared toward supporting social interaction and slowing cognitive decline. Seniors who take advantage of the assisted living and specialized care options can also help fight the onset of dementia through Life Enrichment social activities.

Being socially active is essential for maintaining cognitive function in one’s golden years, but it is also imperative to quality of life. With an emphasis on both brain health and life enrichment, Aegis Living communities make it their mission to get seniors involved and socially engaged.