Sharp and Social

By Alex Dixon | September 1, 2008 | 0 comments

With the number of American suffering from Alzheimer’s disease expected to quadruple by 2050, researchers have been searching for ways to combat the disease. A recent study sponsored by the health maintenance organization Kaiser Permanente may offer one important clue, highlighting the benefits of frequent visits from friends and family members.

The study, published in the July issue of the American Journal of Public Health, examined the relationship between social contact and symptoms of dementia among roughly 2,250 women over the age of 78. All were members of Kaiser, which allowed the researchers to access the women’s medical records.

The researchers phoned the participants periodically over four years and asked them questions about their social life. How many friends and family members did they see regularly? How frequently did they see them? Could they call on them for help? Could they confide in them?

Researchers also assessed the participants’ mental condition over the phone, asking them to count backwards from 20, to offer antonyms for certain words, and to name the president and vice president. If they had difficulty, the researchers reviewed their medical records to see if they’d been diagnosed with dementia.

They found that participants who socialized the least were far more likely to develop dementia. Women in the bottom 20 percent in terms of social activity were almost twice as likely to suffer dementia over those four years.

The researchers cited two factors as key: the number of friends and family the women saw in a month, and how often they saw them. Daily visits appear to help the most, cutting the likelihood of dementia by half.

But could having dementia simply make women less likely to be social, instead of the other way around?

“That’s the magic question you want to ask with any study like this,” says Valerie Crooks, a researcher at Kaiser Permanente of Southern California and the study’s lead author.

Crooks says her study addressed this “chicken-or-egg” phenomenon by determining that the women in question were cognitively fit when the study began. Still, “it’s not inevitable that having a large social network will prevent you from developing dementia,” adds Crooks. “But it does seem to provide some added protection.”

Tracker Pixel for Entry

Greater Good wants to know:
Do you think this article will influence your opinions or behavior?

  • Very Likely

  • Likely

  • Unlikely

  • Very Unlikely

  • Not sure

About The Author

Alex Dixon is a Greater Good editorial assistant.


Like this article?

Here's what you can do:

blog comments powered by Disqus



Greater Good Events

Mindful Self-Compassion: Core Skills Training
International House
December 9-10, 2016

Mindful Self-Compassion: Core Skills Training

This workshop is an introduction to Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC), an empirically-supported training program based on the pioneering research of Kristin Neff and the clinical perspective of Chris Germer.


Take a Greater Good Quiz!

How compassionate are you? How generous, grateful, or forgiving? Find out!


Watch Greater Good Videos

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Talks by inspiring speakers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Dacher Keltner, and Barbara Fredrickson.


Greater Good Resources


Book of the Week

How Pleasure Works By Paul Bloom Bloom explores a broad range of human pleasures from food to sex to religion to music. Bloom argues that human pleasure is not purely an instinctive, superficial, sensory reaction; it has a hidden depth and complexity.

Is she flirting with you? Take the quiz and find out.
"It is a great good and a great gift, this Greater Good. I bow to you for your efforts to bring these uplifting and illuminating expressions of humanity, grounded in good science, to the attention of us all."  
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Best-selling author and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program

thnx advertisement