A group of nursing home residents

High levels of social engagement and frequent social contact are significantly linked to a lower risk of dementia, a new analysis finds. In contrast, loneliness is associated with an elevated risk of declining cognitive function, researchers say.

The investigators analyzed 40 longitudinal cohort studies examining the association between social integration and dementia risk in middle-aged and older adults. The studies were highly diverse, making the interpretation of the results tentative, wrote Angela Yee Man Leung, PhD, RN, of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in China.

“Nevertheless, the sensitivity analysis provided valuable implications that enhancing social engagement and reducing loneliness may prevent or delay the onset of dementia among middle-aged and older adults,” she and her colleagues concluded.

Study participants had lower odds of developing dementia when they had strong social engagement and frequent social contact. Having large social networks also was a “promising” factor in lowering risk, the researchers reported. However, the influence of social support and closeness of social contact on the likelihood of dementia was not significant. 

Loneliness, meanwhile, was significantly associated with an increased risk of dementia.

Full findings were published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society

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