As a large proportion of our population grows older, many scientific studies are shifting their focus towards age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. In a recent study led by Dr. Cynthia Felix M.D., M.P.H. at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, physicians and public health experts discovered a strong correlation between levels of social interaction and the amount of gray matter a person possesses in their brain.
Adults who reported engaging in social events with friends, family or other peers were found to have higher levels of healthy gray matter in their brains than those who do not. Because developed stages of dementia are marked by a loss of gray matter, this finding is important, especially for aging adults. It implies that something as simple as social interaction could be a key player in mitigating the development of dementia and potentially other neurodegenerative diseases. Nevertheless, Dr. Felix and her team understand that more work will be necessary to unveil the true relationship between healthy brains and social engagement.
One of the potential benefits of encouraging social interaction as a preventative measure against diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s is that social interaction is free. Interacting with others by playing games, enjoying meals, or watching television together does not burden a patient with additional costs the way a prescription medication would. Furthermore, there are no side effects to social interaction, which is a problem that accompanies many prescription drugs. Dr. Felix and her team anticipate that this study, in combination with prior research, will trigger a new wave of controlled trials necessary to determine the exact effects of social engagement on brain health to consider these benefits legitimate. In the future, she hopes public health programs can encourage social gatherings among the older communities to simultaneously decrease health care costs and rates of dementia in this population.