Early onset memory loss is being attributed to anxiety, depression, and social isolation. Currently, there are about 25 million suffering from dementia around the world, and the number is expected to exceed 80 million by 2040. But here’s the thing – when it happens with old age, it’s taken for granted – it’s an eventuality or typical of those aging. While this is partially true, there’s no reason you can’t help your parents or grandparents fight it. If not all of it, at least some of it. In a not so shocking revelation from recent studies, here’s what can make an apparent difference – Social Networking.
Social support systems are an established fighter of the effects of dementia, helping patients retain their basic cognitive abilities, or at least what’s left of it. But apparently, it can be more than that. If only you add your grandpa on Facebook, or a have a small chat with your grandmother on skype when you can.
What Do The Studies Say?
The first in-depth study which examined the correlation between social networking and Alzheimer’s was in 2006, headed by Dr David Bennett at the Rush University’s Alzheimer’s Disease Centre. With more than 1,200 participants, the study concluded that it had no effect on the physical pathology of the brain, and how the disease spreads. But those more socially connected had higher cognitive ability than the rest.
Concurrently, a study at Kaiser Permanente, Southern California tested over 2,200 women aged 78 – 82. And those with larger social networks were concluded less likely to develop dementia, even if the daily contact with their circle was only by email/phone.
The paper, Social Networks, and their role in preventing dementia, from the Indian Journal of Psychiatry says that ‘Even at more severe levels of global disease pathology, cognitive function remained higher for participants with larger network sizes”.
Can They Really Use Social Media?
To this predicament, most of you might be surprised by what the numbers have to say. Senior Citizens are among the fastest growing demographic of social media users, and this is predominantly overlooked. According to PEW research centre, there are currently 39 million people, aged 65 and older on the various social media forums. They mostly use it to connect with family & friends, reminisce over and share photos, or for social gaming.
How Does It Help With Memory Loss?
Yes, there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s or Dementia. So how is this going to make it any better? As mentioned earlier, it may not cure the disease, but it certainly helps sharpen their cognitive abilities. In some cases prevention, or even delay of the actual impact caused by the illness. One way experts look at it, is through Robert Katzman’s ‘Cognitive Reserve’ theory, on highly educated individuals – They have higher resistance to Dementia owing to their high cognitive and reasoning abilities. Most are drawing parallels to this and the positive effects of social networks, which may help patients ‘reserve’ their abilities.
Secondly, those with larger social networks aren’t easily depressed, and this brings us back to what we began with, the major reason for early dementia.
Furthermore, the use of social media might be a great addition to health policies and practices in favour of the aging. But most importantly, you can be the agent of change – maybe you can help prolong your grandparents’ memory by a few months, or years, who’s to say? So start today!