This article reviews research indicating significant socializing helps to maintain (or improve) cognitive functioning, and may ward off dementia. The study examined the records of over 2,200 women at least 78 years old, and found that those with higher “social network” scores (based on regular contact with family and friends, as well as availability of said support network) developed dementia at almost a 50% lower rate than those women who were rated as having a lower “social network” score. From the article:
"Finding ways to help older adults remain engaged in productive and enjoyable activities is an important component of successful aging," said Cathleen Connell, Ph.D., head researcher at the Center for Managing Chronic Disease at the University of Michigan. "Not only have social networks been linked to positive physical and mental health outcomes, but also to quality of life."
The article does point out that research conducted in this manner does not solve the “chicken vs. egg” question: Did the women in the study have poor social networks because their cognitive abilities were declining, or did their cognitive abilities decline as a result of low social connectivity? Given the overwhelming evidence demonstrating the importance of social connectivity to positive functioning, it would seem helping older adults maintain social relationships, as well as form new ones, would be of immense benefit to this population. Older women in particular would seem to be vulnerable to isolation, as they live longer than men, and more often outlive their spouse, who I’d imagine would often be one of their primary sources of social support. I’ll close with another quote from the article:
"Our findings indicate that it's important to think about ways to try to reduce the amount of isolation people have even those with families," Crooks said. "It's also important for us to find out what kinds of social support groups we can create for people who are isolated based on extreme age or lack of family."