Being socially active can protect against dementia

CLAHRC researcher Professor Gill Livingston among authors of research highlighting benefits of social contact

Regular contact with a friend at an older age can stave off dementia

New research published in PLOS One has shown the health benefits of being “socially active”. Using data from the WHITEHALL II study, Professor Livingston was among the authors of the paper highlighting the link between being socially active in your 50s and 60s and a lower risk of illness in later life.

WHITEHALL II tracked more than 10,000 people between 1985 to 2013, with those taking part surveyed every five years on the frequency of their social contact with friends and relatives. Participants underwent various cognitive tests, and their health records were monitored for a diagnosis of dementia.

Results showed that seeing friends almost daily at age 60 was associated with a 12% lower likelihood of developing dementia in later life, compared with those who saw only one or two friends every few months. By comparison seeing relatives did not show the same benefit.

The new evidence will be vital as part of the effort to identify lifestyle factors that affect the risk of developing dementia so that prevention efforts can be appropriately targeted.

 

Dr Kalpa Kharicha, Head of Innovation, Policy and Research at the Campaign to End Loneliness, said: “We welcome these findings that show the benefits of frequent social contact in late/middle age on dementia risk. As we found in our Be More Us Campaign, almost half of UK adults say that their busy lives stop them from connecting with other people. It’s important we make changes to our daily lives to ensure we take the time to connect with others. We need more awareness of the benefits that social wellbeing and connectedness can have to tackle social isolation, loneliness and reduce dementia risk.”

Fiona Carragher, Chief Policy and Research Officer at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “There are many factors to consider before we can confirm for definite whether social isolation is a risk factor or an early sign of the condition – but this study is a step in the right direction. We are proud of supporting work which helps us understand the condition better – it is only through research that we can understand true causes of dementia and how best to prevent it.”

There has been extensive media coverage for this new research

Read the paper below

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. https://doi.org/10.1371/ journal.pmed.1002862