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Social Networks Prevent Dementia in Women, Kaiser Permanente Study Finds

June 6, 2008



PASADENA, Calif – A strong social network of family and friends is associated with a lower risk of dementia, says a Kaiser Permanente study published in the July issue of the American Journal of Public Health. This is the latest in a series of studies that Kaiser Permanente is conducting on the causes and prevention of dementia.

The five-year study from the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research & Evaluation followed 2,249 women 78 years or older who had not been diagnosed with dementia and found that women with large social networks were about 26 percent less likely to develop dementia when compared to those women with smaller networks.

“There are a variety of ways that a large social network can facilitate cognitive health but the possible influence on the brain is indirect and largely unknown. Future studies will need to examine which specific aspects of social network are associated with dementia risk. We also need to identify and describe what synthetic social networks may be created that serve to augment or substitute social networks for the elderly who are more socially isolated.” said Dr. Valerie Crooks, lead author and research scientist at Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research & Evaluation in Pasadena.

“This well done study significantly adds to the growing body of information that lifestyle, cognitive activity and social connectivity appear to reduce the risk of dementia and help maintain a healthy brain and my advice to older adults is to maintain and even increase their social ties”, said Dr. Richard Della Penna, medical director, Kaiser Permanente Aging Network and national Elder Care Clinical Lead for the Care Management Institute.

As many as 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. This study provides longitudinal evidence that having larger social networks does have a protective association on the development of dementia in very elderly women.

“The Alzheimer’s Association supports the adoption of a brain-healthy lifestyle and encourages all people to remain mentally, socially and physically engaged,” said William Thies, PhD, vice president of Medical and Scientific Relations at the Alzheimer’s Association. “There is a growing body of scientific evidence that suggests staying socially active, in combination with other activities like managing medical risks, exercising and maintaining a healthy diet, may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s or other dementia.”

This study was funded by the National Institute on Aging.