Socializing for Seniors

"Socializing for Seniors"

Bielak, A. A. M., Mogle, J., & Sliwinski, M. J. (2017). What did you do today? Variability in daily activities is related to variability in daily cognitive performance. The Journals of Gerontology (00), 1-8.

Auntie Bee, who is 89 years old, still dances hula with the recreation center class, loves to crack jokes, plays bingo with her friends on Fridays, and volunteers at a plant nursery daily. If you were to meet Auntie Bee, you would see that her active lifestyle is supported by many healthy relationships that keeps her mind active and can improve her quality of life. As loved ones age, activities and commitments, going to parties, traveling, getting up and going to work, or taking kids to school and dance recitals, may become less frequent. It is very important to stay social and maintain friendships., Everyone knows that staying active is important, but we can’t forget that the brain also needs social stimulation in order to stay sharp. For older adults, there is benefit in engaging in social activities which can boost brain function.

Socializing matters: But don’t just take our word for it!

Research conducted by Bielak et. al., (2017), studied whether changes in daily activities in 146 older adults (aged 60-90, who were retired or partly retired), had an impact on daily brain-based performance. These community-dwelling participants were asked to answer questions about the amount of time spent during daily activities (e.g., crossword puzzle, hanging out with close friends, learning a new skill, exercising, watching TV, shopping, etc.) and then complete four online cognitive (e.g., thinking) tests each day (such as word recognition task, reverse number sequencing task), letter series completion, and object matching) for seven days. The authors chose seven activity factors to examine (i.e., Thinking task, information, Socializing with new people, games, social-private, TV/movies and physical).

Researchers divided the data between individuals in the study to see average change in cognitive (as in mental) ability and highlighted important findings about each older adults’ individual (“within-person”) daily performance. These scientists found that on the days when older adults engaged in social activities (especially with people close to them and unfamiliar social activities), they each showed increases in words they remembered, memory, faster processing time, and reasoning ability. On days when older adults engaged in physical activity, there was no significant change in their thinking score on any of the tasks. Social activity with people close to them and unfamiliar social activities helped them to recall more words in the word recognition task. Also, on the days when the older adults spent two hours more with others close to them, they were able to remember one additional number in a backward sequence. In contrast, when they played games for more than 30 minutes, their memory to sequence the numbers was worse. It may be that the type of games (video games vs slow-pace games) influenced how older adults performed on the thinking tasks. Also, each older adult (“within-person”) who watched TV scored worse by one point on a reasoning task and letter series completion task. Overall, everyone in the study performed worse when watching television. After participating in games and social activities with close friends or confidantes, older individuals’ speed on object• matching was faster. Also, there were more social interactions when they participated in games and social activities with people close to them.

The takeaway! From this study, it may be important to consider the relevance of social health in older, aging adults and their cognitive skills. It is not just the activity that boosts brain activity. For the senior group, there is benefit in engaging in different social activities with friends and loved ones or talk with other people in the community which sustain functional abilities and maintain robust social relationships. These things may potentially enhance and/or preserve everyday cognitive skills and reduce the risks of any brain diseases such as depression, dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

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