Socializing with others can help protect your brain as you age, a new study reported.
According to a new study, social isolation – but not loneliness – can cause changes in certain brain structures and increase the risk of developing dementia.
The findings suggest that social isolation may be used as a predictor of dementia risk, the British researchers added.
Professor Edmund Rolls, neuroscientist from the University of Warwick Department of Computer Science, said: “There is a difference between social isolation, which is an objective state of low social connections, and loneliness, which is subjectively perceived social isolation.
Both have risks to health but, using the extensive multi-modal data set from the UK Biobank, and working in a multidisciplinary way linking computational sciences and neuroscience, we have been able to show that it is social isolation, rather than the feeling of loneliness, which is an independent risk factor for later dementia,” he said.
For the study, Rolls and colleagues analyzed brain imaging data from more than 30,000 people in the United Kingdom and found that those who were socially isolated had less gray matter in brain regions involved in memory and learning.
After adjusting for risk factors such as socioeconomic status, chronic illness, lifestyle, depression and genetics, socially isolated people were 26 percent more likely to develop dementia, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Neurology.
The link between social isolation and dementia was strongest in people over age 60.
Now that the risks of social isolation to brain health and dementia are known, it is important that government and communities take steps to ensure that older people have regular communication and interaction with others, according to study co-author Barbara Sahakian of the Department of Psychiatry at Cambridge University.