Social ties delay memory loss in the aged

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Staying connected with family and friends may delay memory decline among the elderly, new research confirms.

“Our results suggest that increasing social integration may be an important component of efforts to protect older Americans from memory decline,” Dr. Lisa F. Berkman from the Department of Society, Human Development, and Health at Harvard School of Public Health, Boston and colleagues conclude in a report in the American Journal of Public Health.

They looked at the impact of social integration on changes in memory over 6 years in 16,638 Americans aged 50 and older enrolled in the Health and Retirement Study. Memory was gauged by immediate and delayed recall of a 10-word list, and social integration was assessed by marital status, volunteer activity, frequency of contact with children, parents, and neighbors.

The average memory score declined from 11.0 in 1998 to 10.0 in 2004, the investigators found.

People with high social integration and low social integration had similar memory scores in 1998 but that changed over the subsequent 6 years. People who were highly socially integrated in 1998 suffered slower rates of memory decline over time than their less social peers. Memory among the least socially integrated declined at twice the rate as among the most socially integrated.

“Being in the highest level of social integration ameliorated more than half of the age-related decline in memory,” Berkman and colleagues state.

These findings are consistent with several prior studies, all of which found that being socially engaged was associated with a lower rate of cognitive decline and a lower risk of dementia, the team notes.

SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health, online May 29, 2008.