by Michael Lawrence Green
Do you socialize enough for your brain? There’s an increasing amount of data that shows that expanding your social calendar helps your memory. As a matter of fact, there’s data that shows that increased socialization can slow the progression of dementia including Alzheimer’s disease.
According to the Journal of Aging Research, the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to triple over the next forty years. Based upon their research, there are three non-pharmacological strategies to influence brain cognition, general functioning, and overall quality of life. These are: physical exercise, intellectual stimulation, and social interaction.
In 2008, a University of Michigan study revealed that just talking to another person for 10 minutes per day can improve your memory and mental performance. According to Oscar Ybarra, a psychologist at the UM Institute for Social Research (ISR) and a lead author of the research, the study revealed that just talking to other people can be as effective as more traditional mental exercises.
Ybarra and his colleagues conducted two types of studies on the relationship between social interactions and mental functioning.
Study 1 correlated social interaction with higher cognitive function in people of all ages. In this study 3,610 people took exams to determine their mental functions. Then they were surveyed on their levels of social interactions including how often each week they spoke on the phone with friends, neighbors, and relatives, and how often they got together. Researchers found the higher the level of social interaction, the better their cognitive functioning. The participants ranged in age between 24 and 96. All age groups came out with the same results.
Study 2 showed that social interaction immediately enhances cognitive function. This study included 76 college students between the ages of 18 and 21. They were broken up into three groups with three different tasks before taking the same group of tests that measured mental processing speed and working memory. Group 1 engaged in a 10-minute discussion on a social issue; Group 2 completed three intellectual activities, including a reading comprehension exercise and a crossword puzzle; and Group 3 watched a 10-minute clip of “Seinfeld.”
The results showed that Groups 1 and 2 performed well on the tests while Group 3 struggled. The researchers concluded that short-term social interaction lasting for just 10 minutes boosted participants’ intellectual performance as much as engaging in so-called ‘intellectual’ activities for the same amount of time.
A more recent study from Brigham Young University demonstrated that “the effect of [social isolation and loneliness] is comparable to obesity.” A study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that people who were socially active in their 50’s and 60’s had slower rates of memory decline compared to those who were more isolated.
As we age, our social network begins to erode. The key is to keep developing those networks. Here are a few ideas for strengthening your social network:
Make Socializing an Item on Your “to do” list
Socializing must become an important part of your routine, as important to your memory as eating the right foods and exercising. It must become a life priority. Many of us go to work during the week and then shut it down at night and on weekends to recover. Remember to put at least one thing social on your calendar each weekend.
Find a Cause and Volunteer
Besides the sense of purpose that it give you, volunteering is a great way to meet new people, and introduces you to others with similar interests. A British study of seniors revealed that a sense of purpose could extend life by as much as two years. The study was conducted on approximately 9,000 Brits with an average age of 65 years. Want some ideas? Try volunteer.gov for opportunities in your area.
Join a Support Group
Support groups are a great way to connect with people who share common interests and challenges. These groups provide camaraderie as well as emotional support. Look around, there’s a group for almost everything. Most groups would love to have you as a member.
Grow your Facebook Friends List
A recent study at the University College London revealed that there is a direct link between the number of Facebook friends one has and the size of certain areas of the brain. Their findings suggest that most Facebook users use the site to support their existing social relationships, including maintaining or reinforcing the relationships, rather than creating brand new friends or networks. Most of the people with large Facebook lists also had large networks off-line (in the real world) according to researchers.
As part of the process, the research team scanned the brains of 125 college-age Facebook users, comparing their brain scans to the size of each participant’s Facebook network and the number of friends they have off-line. Those with larger networks had more gray matter in several different regions of the brain, including the amygdala (associated with processing memory, information and emotions); the right superior temporal sulcus (discern where others are looking or what they are feeling); left middle temporal gyrus (recognition of faces, understanding word meanings and measuring distances); and right entorhinal cortex (episodic, autobiographical or declarative memory, as well as many other functions).
Get a New Hobby
Similar to finding a support group, picking up a new hobby connects you with all sorts of people. It pumps up your socializing opportunities. In addition, a new hobby challenges your brain. A recent study from the University of Texas at Dallas revealed that learning a new skill (such as digital photography, quilting, martial arts) might be more effective at keeping your brain sharp than playing a puzzle or electronic game.
In the trial, led by cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Denise Park, two hundred seniors were randomly assigned for three months to dedicate 15 hours a week to digital photography, quilting, or another activity. Dr. Park stated, “We found quite an improvement in memory and we found that when we tested our participants a year later, that was maintained.”
Start applying some of these suggestions today. Not only will you improve your memory, but you will add to the richness of your life too.
For more information on Socialization and Memory, please contact us at (530) 297-6464 or click here to email us.