July 13, 2023 -- More social interaction could be good for seniors’ brain health and help prevent dementia, new research suggests.
The study found a link between loneliness in older adults and less brain volume, especially in the areas that are affected by dementia.
The research was performed on almost 9,000 people in Japan without dementia. The average age was 73.
The results were published in the journal Neurology.
“Lower frequency of social contact was associated with decreased total and cognitive function-related regional brain volumes,” the report says. “In addition, depressive symptoms partially explained the association in community-dwelling older people without dementia in Japan.”
The study doesn’t prove that social isolation causes the brain to shrink. Researchers say it suggests there are potential benefits of social engagement in maintaining brain volume and preventing dementia.
Neuroscience News highlighted three findings. First, decreased brain volume was found in the hippocampus and amygdala, the report says. Second, participants who had the least social contact had more white matter lesions indicative of brain damage. Third, “Symptoms of depression were found to partly explain the relationship between social isolation and brain volumes, but accounted for only 15% to 29% of the association.”
Researchers accounted for other factors that could affect brain size, including smoking, exercise, and diabetes.
“Since the study involved only older Japanese people, a limitation is that the findings may not be generalizable to people of other ethnicities and younger people,” Neuroscience News wrote.