Analysis of a longitudinal, population based study in the UK has found that a person may have a reduced risk of developing dementia if they have positive social support around them.
The study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, analysed 10-years’ worth of data (from 2003 to 2013) in a cohort of more than 10,000 participants, all aged over 50 years and none of whom had dementia at the beginning.
Participants were interviewed every two years, and the incidence of dementia was identified from self-reports or from information given by nominated informants. The researchers also measured positive and negative experiences of social support using a specific questionnaire.
This is where the findings get interesting. The researchers found that positive social support from adult children (i.e. a participant’s kids) was associated with reduced risk of developing dementia. Whereas, experiences of negative social support from children and other immediate family actually increased dementia risk.
Dr Mizanur Khondoker, a researcher involved in the study said it is well known that having a rich network of close relationships, including being married and having adult children, is related to a reduced risk of cognitive decline and developing dementia.
“However, a relationship or social connection that does not work well can be a source of intense interpersonal stress, which may have a negative impact on both physical and mental health of older adults,” he said.
“It is not only the quantity of social connections, but the quality of those connections may be an important factor affecting older people’s cognitive health.
“This work is a step toward better understanding of the impact of social relationships on dementia risk, but further research is needed to better establish any potential causal mechanisms that may drive these associations,” Dr Khondoker added.
So while further research is required, this study does emphasise the importance of having positive social networks around you to alleviate stress and promote positive mental health.
View the original research here