People spend their working lives building up a nest egg for when they get older. But as it turns out, their “social” capital is also important for their physical and emotional well-being. This is especially true when it comes to maintaining cognitive function. “Social capital” refers to the amount of time a person spends doing activities they enjoy with people who are supportive and whom they trust.

Historically, people’s social capital “nest egg” has been their family and close friends, but the fastest-growing age group in America is those 85 and older — and their reality is often different. As can be expected, age has reduced that group’s number of close friends and close family members.

 Dr Bryan James, of the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago, IL, has studied the cognitive effects of socialization in the elderly. His research shows that keeping up one’s “social capital” helps seniors retain their cognitive health. “We just weren’t meant to be disengaged from one another,” he states.

James’s recent study, published in The Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, followed 1200 people — none of whom had any sign of dementia at the beginning of the study — for 12 years.

The average age of the study’s participants was 79.5.

In order to prevent other factors from skewing his results, James adjusted for a variety of conditions, including gender; age; race; education; general health, including mental health; size of social network; mobility; introversion versus extraversion; cognitive ability; and level of physical activity.

The study measured social activity using an established scale that calculates how often people engage in such social activities as visiting relatives or friends, participating in group activities, going to restaurants or sporting events, and attending religious services.

Every year, participants were given a battery of 21 tests of cognitive function. These tests checked global cognitive function, as well as specific types of cognition, such as memory, perceptual speed, and visual-spatial ability. Participants were also checked for a new diagnosis of dementia by experienced neuropsychologists.

The results were dramatic.

James found that a decrease as small as one point on the social activity score was transformed into a 47% decline in cognitive function. People who were “infrequently” socially active (having an average score of 1.83 on the social activity scale) had a 70% decrease in cognition compared to those who were “frequently” socially active (having an average score of 3.33 on the social activity scale).

Beacon of LIFE, in Oceanport, NJ, is a government-approved PACE program created to provide seniors, their family, caregivers and professional health care providers the flexibility to meet their health care needs while continuing to live in their community.

We our provide participants with ongoing care along a broad continuum, including an adult day care program that provides socialization. Other services include nursing and personal care, as well as physical, occupational and recreational therapy. Meals and nutritional counseling promote wellness and many forms of healing. Social services are provided to help participants and their family members.

Our care and services allow people who would otherwise need to live in a nursing home to live where they want — in their own communities, in their own homes — while getting everything they need.

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