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Active Social Life Helps Keep Aging Mind Sharp
Date:5/29/2008

Another study finds institutionalization especially common after the death of a spouse

THURSDAY, May 29 (HealthDay News) -- People who keep up active social lives as they age may be doing their brain a favor, a new study finds.

Being socially active may increase feelings of self-worth and emotional validation that could end up helping maintain memory, researchers say. Social interaction may also present older minds with new challenges, keeping the brain more agile.

"We assessed social integration by marital status, volunteer activities and frequency of contact with children and neighbors," explained lead researcher Karen Ertel, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Society, Human Development and Health at the Harvard School of Public Health, Boston.

Her team found that "people who were most socially integrated had memory decline of less than half the rate compared with those who were the least socially integrated," Ertel said.

The report is published in the May 29 online edition of the American Journal of Public Health.

In the study, Ertel's team collected data on almost 17,000 Americans, 50 and older, who participated in the Health and Retirement Study. To test memory, the researchers had participants memorize a list of 10 words. Over six years, researchers tested recall of the word list to assess any decline in immediate and delayed recall.

Average memory scores declined from 11 in 1998 to 10 in 2004, the researchers reported. People who were more socially engaged at the start of the study had a slower decline in memory, compared with people who were more socially isolated, the researchers found.

According to Ertel, the findings indicate that "social activity may help preserve cognitive functioning in the elderly. In addition, people who are socially active may also have other healthful behaviors, which may be related to cognition and better physical health
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