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Possible Social Buffers Against Alzheimer's?

Reviewed by: MySeniorCare Staff
Last Updated: 4/14/2010 10:05:11 AM

Thousands of hours of research have been devoted to finding not only a cure for Alzheimer's disease, but also ways to prevent its occurrence in the first place. Many different factors have been linked to the onset of Alzheimer's, but recent studies show that an individual's social climate might have something to do with it, too.

Scientists are looking into a possible social buffer against Alzheimer's. In other words, they hypothesize that an individual who remains socially active (beyond his or her immediate family) might be less likely to develop Alzheimer's later in life.

Social Research & Alzheimer's

A study published in The Lancet Neurology medical journal demonstrated that people who surround themselves with a supportive network of family and friends score higher on mental tests (such as memory and reading comprehension) than those who do not. Eighty-nine seniors took part in the study, and were monitored until their deaths. After they died, their brains were autopsied to look for signs of tangles and plaque -- two factors known to contribute to Alzheimer's disease.

Another research initiative called the religious orders study measured degrees of conscientiousness amongst "some 1,000 older Catholic priests, nuns and brothers" in the mid-1990s. This study indicates that those with higher degrees of conscientiousness were less likely to develop Alzheimer's. However, this does not establish a causal link between an individual's degree of politeness and his or her likelihood of developing Alzheimer's.

Contributing Factors

None of these studies proves that an individual's social proclivities have anything to do with whether they will develop Alzheimer's disease. A conclusive link in this arena would require elimination of all other factors such as personality, lifestyle, geographic location, race and exposure to the environment, which is, of course, impossible. Nevertheless, the subjective data is sufficient to compel scientists to continue pursuing this avenue of research.

It has been suggested that it might be the traits that cause an individual to become more social that impact their susceptibility to Alzheimer's. For example, if one person is more gregarious, positive and active, they might be more likely to remain mentally acute.

Social Buffer for Alzheimer's?

It would be nice if you could avoid developing Alzheimer's by making friends, but scientists and doctors have not yet identified the causes of this terrible disease.

Research is ongoing in every corner of the world, and perhaps one day a definitive answer will be discovered. Until then, researchers will continue to theorize and test their hypotheses about what leads to Alzheimer's disease.

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