UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Socializing with others is important for mental health and well-being, and it may help improve cognition, as well — especially for older adults, according to new research.
In a study led by Ruixue Zhaoyang, assistant research professor of the Center for Healthy Aging at Penn State, the researchers found that when adults between the ages of 70 and 90 reported more frequent, pleasant social interactions, they also had better cognitive performance on that day and the following two.
Zhaoyang said the findings — recently published in the journal PLOS ONE — may have special relevance now due to social distancing mitigation measures throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our study is one of the first to show that whether you have social interactions on one day can immediately affect your cognitive performance that same day and also on the following days,” Zhaoyang said. “The fact that we found that the cognitive benefits of having pleasant social interactions could manifest over such a short time period was a happy surprise and could be a promising area for future intervention studies.”
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than six million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease, and that number is expected to rise to almost 13 million by 2050. Additionally, deaths from Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias have risen by 16% during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Zhaoyang said that without reliable drug therapies, it’s critical to find ways to help prevent these conditions before they reach the clinical stage.
“Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias impose substantial burdens on patients as well as their family and caregivers,” Zhaoyang said. “It’s important to find modifiable risk factors for cognitive decline before they progress to the clinical stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Social isolation later in life is one risk factor for dementia, and also one we have some control over.