The effects of social interaction may have an immediate impact on cognitive functioning. Such findings offer clues for the prevention of dementia, researchers say.

In a new study that had participants reporting via smartphone, 312 adults between ages 70 and 90 were asked to send details of their social interactions five times per day. They also completed three mobile cognitive tests after each check-in during a 16-day study period. Tests measured processing speed and attention, spatial working memory and perceptual accuracy.

Image of Ruixue Zhaoyang, Ph.D.; Image credit: Penn State
Ruixue Zhaoyang, Ph.D.; Image credit: Penn State

Participants had better cognitive performance on the same day that they reported having more frequent, pleasant social interactions than usual — and on the following two days as well, reported Ruixue Zhaoyang, Ph.D., of the Center for Healthy Aging at The Pennsylvania State University.

The findings may have important implications for long-term cognitive health, Zhaoyang proposed.

“The fact that we found that the cognitive benefits of having pleasant social interactions could manifest over such a short time period was a happy surprise and could be a promising area for future intervention studies,” he said in a statement. 

In the absence of reliable dementia drug therapies, social interventions could make an impact as one of the modifiable risk factors for Alzheimer’s and related dementias, she said. 

“It’s important to find modifiable risk factors for cognitive decline before they progress to the clinical stages of Alzheimer’s disease,” Zhaoyang said. “Social isolation later in life is one risk factor for dementia, and also one we have some control over.”

Full findings were published in PLoS ONE.