Social networks may help with Alzheimer’s disease

Staying in touch with close friends and family members may actually help protect
you from the damaging effects of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), according to
a new study funded by NIH’s National Institute on Aging.

Studies in older people have shown that social networks seem to reduce the
risk of a wide variety of health problems, including mental impairment. But
AD is a physical problem in the brain. It comes about when nerve cells in the
brain stop working, lose connections with other nerve cells and die. The physical
damage it causes can be measured in the brains of people after their death.

Dr. David A. Bennett and his colleagues from the Rush University Medical Center
in Chicago set out to understand the relationship between social networks and
physical changes in the brain caused by AD. They did clinical evaluations and
21 tests for memory and other mental functions in a study of more than 1,100
elderly people. The participants were also asked about the number of children,
family and friends they had and how often they interacted with them. When participants
passed away, their brains were removed and analyzed for physical evidencof
Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, published in The Lancet Neurology, outlines the researchers’
analysis from the first 89 people in the study who’ve died. They found
that the larger the size of a person’s social network, the less a given
amount of AD damage in the brain affected mental test scores. This was true
even when the AD damage was severe.

This study doesn’t prove that social networks can stave off the effects
of AD. It may be that the better you can use the reserves in your brain, the
better you are at maintaining social networks. But social networks may help
you use what you’ve got more efficiently. There are also plenty of other
good reasons to make an effort to stay as well connected with friends and family
as you can.

More information:

Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center: