Staying sociable later on in life could halve your risk of dementia

Every day, I thank my lucky stars I have family, friends and ­colleagues around me. And I’m in touch with them quite ­regularly – I talk to my assistant ­several times a day and she can cure most of my techie probs.

I see a granddaughter every weekend and one of my sons has just texted asking if it’s OK to pop in for an hour. I’m aware of how fortunate I am.

To have such a rich social network isn’t that common, but University College London researchers have found it could make me 50% less likely to develop dementia.

They argue social participation is a way to reduce dementia risk and recommend how we could collectively do that.

The international research team, based in the UK, Finland, US, France, New Zealand and Japan, report that lifelong social activity could ­alleviate dementia risk by increasing cognitive reserve (brain capacity), and brain maintenance. That’s because it lowers stress and improves brain health.

Lead author Dr Andrew Sommerlad says: “As the global population ages and the number of people living with dementia rises (estimated at 50 million people worldwide, and expected to triple by 2050), there’s an increasingly urgent need to find ways to lower the scale and impact of dementia.

“There is a growing body of evidence that being socially active is good for your health and can help keen your brain healthy as you age. Anyone could take this advice on a personal level, but there are also policy and societal changes that could reduce rates of dementia, such as social prescribing, socially connected housing, and more encouragement of volunteering.”

The researchers argue alleviating ­loneliness can help reduce dementia risk. They estimate people who are more socially active in mid to late-life are 30-50% less likely to develop dementia later on.

The researchers say there’s strong enough evidence for it to make it public health policy. The authors suggest policy changes could help restore social contact to pre-Covid levels, by lessening financial and ­logistical barriers.

Ideas include providing socially connected housing, the provision of social centres and developing physical ­environments that support social participation. There is also social (holistic) prescribing, such as a GP helping someone find social groups, or learning new skills or a physical activity. Guiding retirees towards ­volunteering and education is also recommended, and improving awareness of health ­benefits of social participation – hence this article.

The findings support evidence from UCL-led research that four in 10 cases of dementia could be prevented or delayed by targeting 12 modifiable risk factors from childhood to late life.