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Friends Don’t Let Friends Have Dementia

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I have talked before about the FDA-approved medications indicated for Alzheimer’s disease.  The short answer is that they are not very effective – statistically effective, yes – but not appreciably effective and not for very long.  That all deserves some clarification and specificity that I won’t get into, because I want to share something that literally has withstood the test of time.

I have mentioned a London health panel study call the Whitehall II Study before.  This was one of those really big population studies over a very long time.  By very big, I mean they followed over 10,000 people, and the study began in 1985-88 with those thousands of people in the civil service between the ages of 35 and 55.  They took measurements six times over this roughly 30 years.  The measurements included dementia assessments at three of the time points and cognitive ability (verbal memory and reasoning) was measured at five time points.  They linked all of this to clinical and mortality data bases as well as documentation of all of the civil servants’ age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, education, health behaviors, employment status, and marital status.

They also measured “social contact;” this was contact with friends and could not be with family members or friends who lived with them.  In a nutshell what they found was that more frequent social contact – after taking into account all those variables – in mid-life was associated with better cognitive function.  It gets better.  By age 60, those with better social contact had a statistically significant decrease in their dementia risk.  You read the list of the other factors.  Of course people with better socioeconomic health and better overall health tend to be in better cognitive shape as well.  But even after taking into account all of those variables I cited earlier, social contact with friends made a positive additional statistical difference in cognition and dementia incidence.  So, yes, friends don’t let friends have dementia.

Please note that this is not a case of if you hang with friends, you will not have dementia.  It is a pattern where people who hang with friends regularly are less likely to have cognitive issues or dementia.  It’s is like if you don’t smoke you have a lower risk of lung disease.  It’s not a guarantee; it is a better chance at better health.

There is an author named Neil Pasricha who has a number of books out about living better and mental health.  One of my favorites, The Happiness Equation talks about the importance of four S’s…sociability, structure, story and stimulation are the “S” cornerstones for Mr. Pasricha:

  • sociable – engage with others
  • structure – have a routine that engages you every day
  • story – have a reason, a calling for what you do
  • stimulation – challenge yourself and your friends.

In a break from my usual focus on what you can do for your aging loved one, this one will be good for you also if you are the caregiver.  And it will be fun!

Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago.  She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.

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