Social Ties May Help Cut Dementia Risk

Elderly women who maintain close friendships and strong
family ties are less likely to develop
dementia than women who are less sociable, according to new research funded
by the National Institute on Aging.

The latest findings, published in this week's American Journal of Public
Health
, add to the growing body of evidence suggesting that strong social
networks can protect against dementia.

Previous studies have showed that adults who live alone or who have no
social ties have a much higher risk for cognitive impairment than those who
have more social connections.

Dementia is a decline in cognitive (thinking) function that greatly affects
one's day-to-day activities and relationships.
Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia.

For the current study, researchers at the department of research and
evaluation at Kaiser Permanente Southern California interviewed more than 2,000
women aged 78 and older by telephone and reviewed their medical records. The
women were dementia-free in 2001 and completed at least one follow-up interview
in 2002 through 2005.

The women answered questions regarding their social networks, such as how
often they saw or heard from their family or friends, who they could call on
for help or private matters, and how often they had visits, phone calls, and
emails from their social contacts.

The researchers discovered that women with large social networks were 26%
less likely to develop dementia during the study period, although the study
didn't establish a direct link.

"Our findings suggest that larger social networks have a protective
influence on cognitive function among elderly women. Future studies should
explore which aspects of social networks are associated with dementia risk and
maintenance of cognitive health," the researchers write in the journal
report.

By Kelli Stacy
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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