Our older clients as well as clients concerned about aging loved ones will be interested in the results of the Harvard Aging Brain Study, a four-year look at cognitive decline in 260 people ages 62 to 89. The study’s senior author concluded that “social relationships can be an important buffer against cognitive decline.
Citing the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, The Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation reports that social isolation increases by 50% the risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Isolation also increases the chance of getting heart disease or stroke.
Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston conducted the Harvard study. The subjects did not have memory, cognition or dementia problems. The researchers measured beta-amyloid levels in the brain (the toxin that forms plaque seen in Alzheimer’s) as well as tested the participants’ cognition and memory skills.
Those who were widowed declined much faster in cognitive skills than those who were married or unmarried, suggesting that the loss of companionship may influence decline. Strikingly, even in those with high levels of beta-amyloid, the decline was three times quicker for those who were widowed.
Older loved ones – especially those who have experienced personal loss – can benefit from social stimulation, regular activity, and support and contact from others (particularly if it is in person, by telephone or video conference where actual voice contact is made).
This study provides food for thought for our clients who are guardians, family members and others who care for older people about how to plan for socializing opportunities for their loved ones or protected persons.