Social Connections and Cognitive Health
Social engagement is associated with better cognitive and mental health. Research indicates that older adults are healthier and they live longer when they are socially engaged. In fact, social connection is believed to be a protective factor against Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, while social isolation can harm brain health and lead to depressive symptoms, especially among the elderly.
If you have a social network, maintaining and strengthening those connections can help protect your brain.
Engaging with others can protect your brain from the negative effects of social isolation. Whether you engage with family, friends or coworkers, there's brain science that supports the health benefits of social relationships. A protein called Interleukin-6 or IL-6 is produced by various cells throughout your body. It's a part of your immune system that is associated with inflammation. Elevated levels of IL-6 have been found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Research suggests a connection between socialization and lower levels of IL-6.
If you have a social network, maintaining and strengthening those connections can help protect your brain. Social connections don’t just apply to peers of your age—a strong relationship with a grandchild, neighbor, or gym instructor can also keep your brain strong.
Strong social connections can also benefit more than just your brain. When you spend time socializing with others, you might feel a boost in your mood or notice you’re sleeping better. Since depression and lack of sleep are both associated with dementia risk, it’s a win-win-win.
Many of us have experienced more social isolation recently. The balance between staying safe and staying social is now an ongoing dilemma. But, while it might require a bit of creativity or flexibility, there are still ways to maintain our social connections. A video chat with a loved one or phone call with a friend can keep you and your brain healthier and happier.
- Friedman, E. M., Hayney, M. S., Love, G. D., Urry, H. L., Rosenkranz, M. A., Davidson, R. J., Singer, B. H., & Ryff, C. D. (2005). Social relationships, sleep quality, and interleukin-6 in aging women. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 102(51), 18757–18762. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0509281102
- National Institute on Aging. (2020). Research suggests a positive correlation between social interaction and health. Retrieved from https://www.nia.nih.gov/about/living-long-well-21st-century-strategic-directions-research-aging/research-suggests-positive
- Uchino, B. N., Trettevik, R., Kent de Grey, R. G., Cronan, S., Hogan, J., & Baucom, B. R. W. (2018). Social support, social integration, and inflammatory cytokines: A meta-analysis. Health Psychology, 37(5), 462–471. https://doi.org/10.1037/hea0000594