Can your social life protect against dementia?

Consumer Reports News: February 09, 2009 03:54 PM

Anyone who's cared for an elderly relative with Alzheimer's disease or other types of dementia will know how distressing it can be. It's the illness that scares me more than any other.

So, the recent news that something as simple as your social life might offer protection from dementia is exciting. Researchers writing in the Neurology journal say they've found that people with a calm, outgoing personality and an active social life are least likely to get dementia in old age.

They suggest that it's to do with the way you deal with stress. Prolonged anxiety, without social support, might have a physical affect on the body that makes your brain more prone to dementia.

However, there are other potential explanations. Keeping socially active might mean you are also more physically active. Other studies have shown that physical activity can help protect your mental functioning as you get older. And calm people might live healthier lives in other ways, too.

Finally, reading the research, I thought of my grandmother. She walked her dogs daily, knew all her neighbors, and did charity work well into her 80s. She was one of the calmest people I knew. Yet she succumbed to dementia at the end of her life. I guess there’s still a lot we don't know about what causes dementia. While research can give us some pointers, we’re a long way from being able to "dementia-proof" our lives.

What you need to know. The best way we know to protect ourselves against dementia is to keep physically active. A good social life might protect your brain, and social activities can be a great way of staying active and enjoying life more. But there are no guarantees with this disease.

Anna Sayburn, patient editor, BMJ Group has partnered with The BMJ Group to monitor the latest medical research and assess the evidence to help you decide which news you should use. 

Take a look at the causes of dementia, read more on prevention, and find out how your morning cup of coffee might help. And if you know someone who's living with Alzheimer's, see our free Best Buy Drugs report and our Treatment Ratings (subscribers only).

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