Can friendships and social interactions reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia? Some research seems to indicate this possibility.
An article published in 2013 described a six-year study on social interactions and dementia. This research involved 593 participants over the age of 65 who did not have dementia at the start of the study. Social interactions of participants were monitored, as well as their cognitive abilities. The results revealed that people with higher levels of social interaction were less likely to develop dementia. It is important to note that, in this study, “social interaction” included activities such as reading the newspaper, trying new things, taking an active approach to life, and maintaining an active social life.
the Alzheimer’s Disease Journal also presented an interesting study on social interaction. This study involved participants without dementia who participated in a highly interactive focus group, while other study participants participated in Tai Chi, walking, or were part of the control group who received no intervention. The results showed that the people involved in the focus group not only improved their cognitive functioning, but also increased their brain volume according to MRI scans. Increased brain volume has been correlated with a lower risk of dementia.
The quality of social interactions matters
Some research has shown that having a large number of friends is not necessarily the factor that reduces the risk of dementia. Rather, it is the quality, satisfaction, support and reciprocity (give and take) of relationships that are the important factors in reducing risk.
Can social interaction stop MCI from progressing to dementia?
Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is a condition in which thinking and memory skills are somewhat impaired, and yet daily functioning often remains fairly intact. Some people with MCI steadily decline and develop Alzheimer’s disease, while others remain stable or even improve their cognition over time.
Research has shown a decreased risk of progression to dementia from MCI in people who actively participate in social activities. Social activities are defined in this study to include going to a place of worship, volunteering, spending time with family and friends, eating out, attending special family occasions and attending organizational activities.
While we cannot conclude that social interaction permanently prevents cognitive decline in people with MCI, it appears to significantly reduce the chances of this progression.