Yuxian Ma, Olesya Ajnakina, Andrew Steptoe and Dorina Cadar
Dementia is a major health challenge that could steal away the opportunity for successful ageing of the population. A priority is to identify lifestyle factors that may reduce the risk of dementia, or even prevent it. The modifiable risk factors for vascular diseases — such as smoking, excessive alcohol intake, lack of physical activity, low intake of antioxidants and high intake of saturated fats — are receiving greater attention in this area because of their association with cognitive impairment and dementia in older people.
Obesity, which is linked to lifestyle behaviours, is an important modifiable risk factor. In our recent study carried out at the UCL Department of Behavioural Science and Health, we found that being overweight or obese was associated with a greater risk of developing dementia.
Dementia is the most feared aspect of ageing and is a major global health challenge, so identifying lifestyle factors that can reduce memory decline, and possibly prevent dementia from occurring, is a research priority. In our study, recently published in the IJE, we explored whether having more frequent contact with friends and family, or being married, is linked to better memory and language in older age.
We found that having more social contact and being married in mid-life were both linked to having better cognitive performance over the next 20 years. In particular, we found that verbal fluency was the cognitive area with the strongest link to social contact.
Good social relationships are important for people’s happiness and well-being, but they also appear to be good for your health. In the current systematic review and meta-analysis we evaluated whether good social relationships are associated with maintaining cognitive performance in old age.
Cognitive performance Cognitive performance comprises the brain-based skills we need to carry out any task from the simplest to the most complex. It involves amongst others learning, memory, planning, problem-solving, speed of thinking, paying attention and concentration. With increasing age cognitive performance declines. For some people, this decline comes faster than for others. People with poor cognitive performance are at higher risk of developing dementia and problems with performing daily activities. Currently, there are no effective treatments to delay the onset of cognitive decline. Therefore, it is important to identify modifiable factors that might delay the onset of cognitive decline. Continue reading “Social relationships may delay the process of cognitive decline”→