“Social Capital” Helps Seniors Retain Brain Function

Everyone is advised to save money for retirement. But as people grow older, their financial capital is not the only determinant of their health; there “social” capital is also important for their well-being, both physical and emotional. This is especially the case when it comes to preserving brain function. “Social capital” refers to how much socialization a person has with supportive, trustworthy people, and the degree to which they engage in activities they enjoy. Generally, people’s social capital has been family and close friends, but population changes are transforming that.

The fastest-growing age group in America is those 85 and older. As can be expected, the general stress of aging, including increasing disability, can take a toll on that age group’s close friends and family.

Dr Bryan James, of the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago, IL, says that socialization follows the same rule as exercise: “Use it or lose it.” By “lose it,” he doesn’t just mean losing the opportunity for socializing. His research shows that keeping up one’s “social capital” helps seniors retain their cognitive abilities. “We just weren’t meant to be disengaged from one another,” he insists.

James’s study, published in The Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, followed 1200 people for 12 years. Their average age was 79.5, and none of them had signs of dementia at the beginning of the study. James adjusted for risk factors such as gender; age; race; education; chronic conditions, including depression; size of social network; disability; introversion versus extraversion; cognitive ability; and physical activity, so that none of these would skew his results.

His goal was to see the effect of social activity on brain function, untainted by any confounding factors.

The study measured social activity using an established scale that calculates how often people engage in such social activities as visiting relatives or friends, participating in group activities, going to restaurants or sporting events, and attending religious services.

Each year, participants were given a battery of 21 tests of cognitive function. These tests checked general cognitive function, as well as specific domains of cognition, such as different types of memory; perceptual speed; and visual-spatial ability. Participants were also checked for a new diagnosis of dementia by experienced neuropsychologists.

The results were dramatic.

The study found that a decrease as small as one point on the social activity score related to a 47% decline in cognitive function. People who were “infrequently” socially active had a 70% decrease in cognition compared to those who were “frequently” socially active.

At Hamilton Grove Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, in Hamilton, NJ, our Social Services Department ensures that our residents have a variety of enjoyable activities to choose from, and encourage them to find the friends with whom to enjoy those activities. Our goal is for every resident to thrive: socially, emotionally, spiritually, and, of course, cognitively.

For those who are already suffering from cognitive impairments, we offer special care and recreational regimens to promote sociability and enhance cognitive function. We have created a unique environment and care program specifically designed to address the needs of this population. Our Alzheimer’s Unit is situated in a separate, secure wing to ensure the safety and well-being of our residents. It offers a structured daily routine, mind-stimulating activities, excellent social interaction, with optimal patient independence in a calm and soothing atmosphere.

Read our reviews on caring.com, wellness.com, and senioradvisor.com to hear what our residents and their families have to say.

Or better yet, come see for yourself: Contact us to schedule a tour by calling 609-588-5800 or by clicking here.

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