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July 08, 2022 2 min read

Research shows that loneliness and isolation predict cognitive decline and the onset of dementia, whereas social activity protects against dementia onset. In lieu of the recent lockdowns during COVID, it is understandable that rates of dementia are reaching alarming levels.

In one study, researchers examined how various social and lifestyle factors influenced cognitive abilities over a 5-year period. They found that out of all social and lifestyle factors assessed, social engagement was the only significant predictor of being cognitively typical by the end of the study period.

For the study, the researchers used the second and third waves of data collected in 2010–2011 and 2015–2016, respectively.

Participants included 2,192 middle-aged and older Americans. Cognitive ability was assessed via the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA), a screening tool that differentiates cognitive changes from normal aging, MCI, and early dementia.

Social activity was asked via questionnaire and included items such as frequency of volunteer work, attendance at meetings and organized groups, and socializing with friends and relatives.

Lifestyle factors were also assessed via survey and included smoking status and history, alcohol consumption, and participation in vigorous physical activity.
The researchers used demographic factors including age, sex, and household income as control variables.

When examining the data from 2015–2016 in isolation, the researchers found that social activity, being a past but not a current smoker, and drinking alcohol significantly correlated with typical cognitive abilities.

The researchers concluded that while both social and lifestyle factors are essential for later-life cognition, social engagement alone is linked to cognitive improvement over time.

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