As this pandemic drags on, I find myself worrying a lot about people’s mental health.
After all, there’s a reason why we punish people by putting them into solitary confinement: Too little social interaction is literal torture. And yet, here we all are.
Many of us are still working from home two years later—and staying inside has become second nature.
But I’m here to warn you that getting too comfortable with an inactive social life is risky. In fact, it can be downright LETHAL to your brain…
Contact boosts cognition
Penn State researchers recently collected data on more than 300 older adults—and analyzed their cognitive scores around periods of social interactions.
Each day, subjects reported on their number of social interactions; details on the people involved in them; and whether the interactions were positive or negative. (Digital and phone-based interactions counted.)
The subjects checked in at five different times throughout the day. They also completed three cognitive tests to assess processing speed and attention, spatial working memory, and memory binding.
Ultimately, the researchers found that when people had frequent contact with close friends on any given day, their cognitive scores were higher than those who interacted less with close friends and family.
Not only that, but the benefits lasted: Subjects between the ages of 70 and 90 years benefited from stronger cognitive function for days after they had engaged in pleasant social interactions.
In other words, positive social interaction BOOSTS brainpower not only on the day of contact but also on subsequent days.
Reach out and connect
This is a super important finding because dementia—and Alzheimer’s disease (AD), in particular—is a major problem worldwide. One that’s only going to get worse.
Right now, some six million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. By 2050, that number is expected to increase to 13 million. Plus, Alzheimer’s-related deaths have jumped by 16 percent since the pandemic started.
And without any effective mainstream approaches to combat this increase, it’s especially important to identify lifestyle changes that can help to stop, or at least slow, dementia progression. So if something as simple as positive social interaction may do that trick? Well, that gets a thumbs up from me.
In fact, social isolation is a risk factor that we can actually help control. And it’s one of the easier ones to address—no dietary changes or exercise regimens required!
So, if you’re an older adult—or an adult of any age, for that matter—and you’re still isolating, I urge you to reach out, go out, and interact. Even if it is only by phone, or one of the many other ways we can connect digitally these days. Similar to physical activity, anything is better than nothing at all.
And if you have an older loved one who lives alone, be sure to check in on them regularly. You may even consider volunteering at a local senior center—or doing some outreach to our senior citizens.
This pandemic has been tough on all of us… but I think it has been toughest on the kids and the elderly. Of course, with another holiday season fast approaching, it’s a great time to help someone to feel a little less lonely. And for YOU to add a few social events to your calendar, too!
“Socializing (even by phone) can improve mental performance among older adults.” StudyFinds, 09/10/2021. (studyfinds.org/socializing-older-adults-alzheimers/)