Research is the primary discipline of the U.S.A. Institute of Ageing, communicating with the public and the caring professions its ultimate aim. I have been looking at a summary of their recent study released last month by the American Journal of Public Health which suggests that an active social life may keep memory loss at bay.
I would have thought that was rather obvious. There is a lot of controversy in the U.K. just now about the standard of care in homes looking after the elderly. I have visited three such homes recently, two of which felt too much like the old institutions I met many years ago, with people sitting in a room silently staring at each other, moving out of their captive chairs only to go to the toilet or the next meal. As I talked to some of the residents, they came to life and interacted with each other.
Karen Ertel, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University’s Society, led this research and her team concluded that people with an active social life may be more likely to engage in other activities, such as exercise, which improve their overall health, and they ‘suspect social contact could influence hormones that benefit or stimulate the brain in a way that creates a buffer against mental decline’.
Conversely the research found that single people of 50 years and over who didn’t meet with family or friends every week had twice the memory loss of those who are more socially active.
Karen Ertel says that her study ‘adds to a body of literature that really is showing pretty strong support that social activity and engagement may have a protective effect on cognitive decline’ although she warns, further research is needed to make any definitive conclusions.
I don’t think I need any further research. A systematic study can sometimes confirm an instinctive and logical supposition, for, as you get older, the reality is that holding on to memory can be a painful business and too easily can become a lonely affair.
My wife and I said the other day that we really do need each other, because what the one forgets the other often remembers!
Socialising can therefore sometimes be embarrassing as you stumble for the right word, but it’s a risk worth taking and you can almost feel the adrenaline pumping in as your mind opens up, your memory is refreshed and you rejoin the wider communities of care and love that, as social contacts become more difficult to make and maintain, you may otherwise feel estranged from.