Social interaction protective against dementia – study

A new study, led by researchers at University College, London (UCL), has found that being socially active at 50s and 60s is predictive of lower risk of dementia.

Dementia is a group of thinking and social symptoms in which there is decline in memory, thinking, behaviour and the ability to carry out daily tasks.

It is a major public health problem that afflicts mainly the elderly.

According to the UN Health Agency, WHO, “worldwide, around 50 million people have dementia, and there are nearly 10 million new cases every year.”

While dementia is common to the elderly, “it is not a normal part of ageing”, WHO warns.

The import of WHO warning is that people can age gracefully without developing dementia.

This new longitudinal (follow-up) study presents the most robust evidence ever, that underscores the importance of mid-life social interaction in protecting against the development of dementia in later life.

The study revealed that increased social contact at age 60 has a statistically significant impact on reducing the risk of developing dementia in later years.

Analysis from the study showed that those who saw friends almost everyday at age 60 were 12% less likely to develop dementia compared with those who saw friends just few times in a month over the follow-up period.

There were similar results for social contacts at 50s and 70s but they were not statistically significant.

Even though social contacts at earlier life did not yield the same statistically significant association, the researchers believed that social contacts at both early life and midlife may well be predictive of lower risks of dementia in later life.

Also, social contacts with friends accounted for the observed association for lower risks of dementia in the study participants rather than with relatives.

It is worthy of note that this finding does not negate the enormous benefits that are derivable from relationships with loving relatives.

The study, published August 2019 in PLOS Medicine, is available from the link below for further reading for those who wish to learn more.

Citation: Sommerlad A, Sabia S, Singh-Manoux A, Lewis G, Livingston G (2019) Association of social contact with dementia and cognition: 28-year follow-up of the Whitehall II cohort study. PLoS Med 16(8): e1002862. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1002862

Samuel Abiona

Samuel Abiona

Samuel Abiona is a medical doctor by training and a writer by passion. Samuel holds a postgraduate degree in Public Health. He believes that communicating medical knowledge goes beyond writing technical reviews. Samuel thus uses his expertise in public health and health systems research to transmit technical information for both academic and general audience. Please email to contact this author directly or use the contact page and your information will be passed on to him.