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Having a socially active life in the 50s and 60s reduces the risk of developing dementia later on in life, a new study has revealed.

The research conducted by the University College London(UCL) and published in the Public Library of Science (PLOS) Medicine found that social contact earlier in life could play an important role in staving off dementia.

The researchers studied 10,228 participants who had been asked on six occasions between 1985 and 2013 about their frequency of social contact with friends and relatives. 

The same participants also completed cognitive testing from 1997 onwards, and researchers referred to the study subjects’ electronic health records up until 2017 to see if they were ever diagnosed with dementia.

For the analysis, the research team focused on the relationships between social contact at age 50, 60 and 70, and subsequent incidence of dementia, and whether social contact was linked to cognitive decline, after accounting for other factors such as education, employment, marital status and socioeconomic status.

It was revealed that increased social contact at age 60 is associated with a significantly lower risk of developing dementia later in life. The analysis showed that someone who saw friends almost daily at age 60 was 12 percent less likely to develop dementia than someone who only saw one or two friends every few months.

They found similarly strong associations between social contact at ages 50 and 70 and subsequent dementia; while those associations did not reach statistical significance, the researchers say that social contact at any age may well have a similar impact on reducing dementia risk.

“Here we’ve found that social contact, in middle age and late life, appears to lower the risk of dementia. This finding could feed into strategies to reduce everyone’s risk of developing dementia, adding yet another reason to promote connected communities and find ways to reduce isolation and loneliness,”said the study’s lead author, Dr Andrew Sommerlad (UCL Psychiatry).

“People who are socially engaged are exercising cognitive skills such as memory and language, which may help them to develop cognitive reserve — while it may not stop their brains from changing, cognitive reserve could help people cope better with the effects of age and delay any symptoms of dementia,” said senior author Professor Gill Livingston (UCL Psychiatry).

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Brenda Gamonde is reporter with Business Today. Email: [email protected]

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