Participation in social activities can offer some protection against cognitive decline among those in long-term care communities, according to a report published Tuesday in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

A team from Amsterdam UMC evaluated 3,603 people living at 42 Dutch and Belgian care facilities. Every participant was assessed an average of 4.4 times during the study period. The participants were put into categories based on their level of decline. Those with the lowest levels of decline or none at all had the strongest association with less cognitive decline compared to those with moderate or severe impairment. Social activity prevented decline from starting or getting worse, the researchers explained. 

“Cognitive decline in long-term care residents is relatively common. A Canadian study showed that almost a quarter of residents cognitively declined after a year of residency,” Hein van Hout, a professor of Care for Older People at Amsterdam UMC and lead author, said in a statement. “Our study shows that this decline can be mitigated, for those in which cognitive decline has not, or only just, started, if they participate in social activities.”

“Social activity can mean a lot of things,” van Hout continued. “In this study we looked at both general activities, as well as specific social activities such as conversing, reminiscing, helping others and going on trips or even just to the shops. We saw that all of these activities offered this preventative effect.” The authors added that the preventative effect that may be able to impact national care guidelines.

“This may affect our ideas of how an optimal staff mix looks like, for example with more professionals or volunteers to help facilitate social activities,” van Hout added. “This, in turn, can lower their dependence on assistance in their daily lives which could have a knock-on effect on the societal costs of long-term care in the long run.”

The news comes as a study published Monday in The Gerontologist urged people with dementia and those who care for them to be screened for loneliness. Researchers of that report found that patients and their caregivers had declines in social well-being as the disease worsened.