Social Connections May Delay Physical, Mental DeclineA new study suggests staying connected with others can help retard physical and cognitive issues associated with aging.

In fact, older adults should strive to maintain or even increase their participation in social activities.

That’s the message from a new study that found that older adults who maintain high levels of social activity or ramp up their social life as they age might be protected from increases in physical and cognitive issues over time.

“People have some control over their social lives, so it is encouraging to find that something many people find enjoyable — socializing with others — can benefit their cognitive and physical health,” said study author Patricia A. Thomas, Ph.D.

Researchers have known that a positive association exists between health and social relations. In this study, researchers examined how changing social connections over time influenced health.

Investigators discovered that although the elderly are vulnerable to losing formal social roles through retirement or the death of a spouse, they could still seek out a variety of social activities.

Researchers analyzed data from a sample of 1,667 adults older than 60 years. Participants were asked about their frequency of social activities, such as visiting with friends and family members; attending meetings, programs or clubs; and volunteering in the community over the previous 12 months. They also answered questions about cognitive and physical limitations.

Investigators discovered socially active older adults developed cognitive and physical limitations more slowly than did those with low levels of engagement. This finding held true even among elders who were not as socially active in their young years.

Thomas pointed out, “Even if older adults weren’t socially active when they were younger, when they increase social activity later in life, it can still reduce physical and cognitive health issues.”

Asenath La Rue, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist, agreed with the study’s main finding. La Rue said there has not been much reporting about the benefits gained from social interaction if a person was not socially connected when younger.

“However, it’s like the chicken and egg question about which comes first,” she explained to Health Behavior News Service, noting that while the research was observational, epidemiology supports the fact that social interaction is beneficial for cognitive health and physical performance in older adults.

The study appears in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

Source: Health Behavior News Service