Can Staying Socially Active Help in the Fight Against Dementia?

March 09, 2017

By Dr. David Roeltgen, Neurologist, Shore Physicians Group

Dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, affects more than 40 percent of people age 80 and over. Unfortunately, we don’t have control over whether or not we develop this disease of the brain, nor are there treatments available to reverse the disease. However, we can diminish our likelihood of developing dementia, and one way is through increased socialization.

In 2010, M. Cristina Polidari and her colleagues reviewed eight research studies that examined the effects of social, cognitive and leisure activities on risk for dementia. Seven out of eight of the studies showed a decreased risk of dementia in people who had increased social and active leisure than in those who did not.

Another study in 2009 in Sweden by psychology researcher Krister Håkansson and his colleagues assessed whether midlife marital status is related to late-life cognition.  They evaluated 1,449 people in midlife and again an average of 21 years later. Persons in the study who were living with a partner in midlife were significantly less likely to have impairment in thinking and memory, compared to the people who were single, separated, divorced or widowed. The researchers interpreted this information and concluded that social and intellectual stimulation help protect against dementia.

As we age, it can be difficult to maintain an active and healthy social life, but it’s extremely important. Here are some ways you can make socializing a priority:

Three Tips for Staying Social:

  • Schedule regular activities: Whether it’s Mah Johngg Mondays at a senior center or a weekly meet-up with your local knitting group, scheduling social activities in advance is a great way to ensure you get out of the house frequently. Shore Medical Center offers monthly Senior Socials, which happen on the third Wednesday of each month at 3pm in DiOrio Hall. These hour-long events begin with a game of free B-I-N-G-O and conclude with a half-hour presentation on a health or wellness topic. To learn more about Shore’s upcoming Senior Socials, click here.
  • Volunteer: Giving back helps you feel good about yourself and get social, among many other rewards. Look for volunteer opportunities that enable you to interact directly with people. For example, Shore Medical Center has many opportunities to volunteer alongside others, including at the information desk in its main lobby. More than 350 volunteers donate their time to Shore Medical Center each year. Many have developed long lasting friendships and get together outside of their time at Shore, too. To learn more about becoming a volunteer, contact the Volunteer Office at 609-653-3543.
  • Join Social Media: While it’s certainly no substitute for engaging with people live and in person, joining a social media site like Facebook can be a great way to maintain contact with the important people in your life. Social media isn’t just for the younger generation these days. In fact, according to a 2014 research study by Pew Research Center, more than half of all online adults age 65 and older use Facebook, or 31 percent of all seniors. Other things like Skype and FaceTime that enable you to see the people you’re communicating with make it easy to have regular, ‘face to face’ interactions.

Successfully overcoming the potential devastation of dementia will require a joint effort by our entire community, including researchers, medical personnel, and organizations like the Ocean City Masonic Lodge No. 171. Recently, the Masonic group made a donation of $500,000 to Shore Medical Center to establish the Flora Baker Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders Center. The program is made possible by a gift to the Masons from Flora Baker and her husband Benjamin Baker, both deceased, who were generous benefactors of the hospital. This center will enable Shore Medical Center to improve and expand the opportunities for people in our region struggling with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease so they can receive the care they need. The Center will be staffed by specialists in neurology, psychiatry, social work and family education with a goal to ease the burden on the patient and family after the diagnosis is made. The Center will open later this summer. To learn more, click here.

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