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New Study: Time With Friends Could Help Prevent Dementia

NEW YORK, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- There may be a way to prevent dementia without any medication or medical procedures, according to a new study.

As CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez reports, having friends and being social may be the keys to helping preserve brain function.

After 30 years as an attorney, Dan Mertz is ready for retirement.

"I'm down to five work days left and putting away all the old memories," said Mertz.

He's looking forward to having time to reconnect with friends and family.

Experts know a strong social circle correlates to better memory and cognitive function as we age. The question is why?

Ohio State researchers studied groups of mice, some in groups of two and some with a few roommates and plenty of social interaction. All the mice were what researchers describe as "post-retirement age," when brain function typically starts to decline.

Researchers tested their memory using a maze where only one of the holes led to an escape hatch. The coupled mice searched every hole until they found the escape route - something called a 'serial search'.

The mice with more social ties seemed to remember the maze and head directly to the escape route, a spatial search. The human equivalent would be like looking for your car in a large parking lot.

"A serial search would just be walking up and down every single aisle until you stumbled upon your car," said Kirby. "A spatial search would be trying to remember where your car was and navigate directly to your car."

The social mice also had benefits in their brains.

"The mice who had more friends, who lived in a larger group had less inflammation in their brain," said Kirby. "So, that's a sign of a healthier brain in aging."

Researchers say the next step is to find out how socialization affects the brain on a molecular level so that they can mimic or support those changes to better protect brain function as people get older. In the meantime, go spend more time with your friends.

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