We humans are highly social beings. We certainly don’t survive well, let alone thrive, when we are isolated and lonely. Friendships with other people stimulate our brains, and interacting with other people is one of the best kinds of brain exercise you can do!
Research suggests that visiting friends, attending events, or going to church may help to prevent or delay cognitive decline and memory loss in old age, one important study found. “It’s logical to think that when someone’s cognitive abilities break down, they are less likely to go out and meet friends, enjoy a camping trip, or participate in community clubs. If memory and thinking abilities fail, socialising becomes difficult” said the researcher at the Alzheimer’s Disease Centre. He continued “But our finding suggest that social inactivity leads to the problem”.
The study included 1,138 adults with an average age of 80 years and over five years were questioned on what social activities they had participated in – whether they went to restaurants, sporting events, took trips away, did volunteer work, attended church and so on. At the beginning no one participating in the research had any cognitive problems at all. The study, the Rush Memory and Aging Project, was published online by the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.
Astonishingly, after five years those who were more socially active showed reduced rates of decline. Those who had the highest levels of social activity experienced only one quarter of the co
gnitive and memory decline experienced by the least socially active people. Isn’t that amazing?
Unfortunately, it is often later in life, when social activity is the most likely to benefit the brain and memory, that people tend to become more isolated. Retirement, the death of a loved one, or any number of factors make this tendency understandable, but it doesn’t mean we can’t do anything about it.
There are many ways to start taking advantage of the brain and memory-boosting benefits of socialising. You can volunteer, join a club, see friends more often, find a new interest and participate with others, join a walking group, learn a musical instrument, learn to dance, organise a movie night, or reach out over the phone – the possibilities are endless. And if a human isn’t handy, don’t overlook the value of a pet-especially the highly-social dog.
Your community, body, brain and memory will thank you for it!
Dr. Allison Lamont is a clinician at the Auckland Memory Clinic. With her sister, Gillian Eadie, she has co-authored several books and memory courses. Together they founded the Memory Foundation. Visit the website to play our online Games, receive your FREE Brain Tune™ mini memory course, and discover loads of information about keeping your memory sharp and building brain resilience.