Socialise to ward off dementia, according to latest research. Taking part in activities with like-minded friends can give a great boost to your mental health and help protect you against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in later life
In England, there are around 800,000 people with dementia and around half have dementia but do not know.
A new ‘index’ developed by Age UK and the University of Southampton has found that taking part in social activities has the most direct influence on improving a person’s wellbeing in later life. The Index of Wellbeing in Later Life examines different aspects of people’s lives in five key areas – social, personal, health, financial and environmental – analysing data from 15,000 people aged 60 and over, to measure the wellbeing of the UK’s older population.
Reading newspapers, doing crosswords, pursuing a hobby and watching television news updates are useful to give your brain a daily work-out. Activities such as going to a cinema, museum or historical site, taking part in arts events, being a member of a social or sports club; or engaging in a community or voluntary group are all beneficial.
Professor of International Social Policy at the University of Southampton, Asghar Zaidi, who developed the methodology behind the Index, says “We live in an extraordinary time with increasing numbers of us in the UK living longer than ever imagined before. On the one hand, many can celebrate living financially secure, active, engaged and healthy lives for longer, but we also know living longer exposes many other older people to huge vulnerabilities.”
Overall it shows there is no ‘magic bullet’, rather a whole host of factors under each of the key areas play an important part in contributing to a person’s sense of wellbeing. Like any muscle the brain needs to be exercised and so keeping yourself mentally active can help stave off depression and dementia in later life.
Other factors found to have an influence include; having an open personality and being willing to try out new things; being physically active; having a good memory and thinking skills; and having a good social network and lots of warm relationships. Keeping in touch with the latest news helps keep you abreast of group conversations. Interestingly, the Index found that ‘creative activities’ had the most direct influence, with older people benefitting from activities such as dancing, playing a musical instrument, visiting museums, photography, singing, painting and writing.
Professor Zaidi says, “The cost of looking after a rising number of older people raises serious concerns about the sustainability of current provisions of care, especially when there are competing claims on limited resources in the country. Age UK’s Index of Wellbeing in Later Life provides authoritative new guidance on what matters most for a good life in old age and provides information on areas crucial to policymaking relating to the wellbeing and quality of life of older people in our communities.”
“As the number of people aged 60 and over is expected to pass the 20 million mark by 2030, the Index provides a unique snapshot of how older people are doing now and shines a light on some of the changes that are needed to improve the quality of life for our ageing population in future.”
“We found that those who scored best in the Index (top 20 per cent) had good thinking skills, didn’t live alone, were socially engaged, had good friendships, were physically active with good health and didn’t have serious money worries. Those who scored worse (bottom 20 per cent) were the opposite, with fewer qualifications, lived alone, had a poor social network, weren’t physically active, had long-standing illnesses and many (one in four) were on an income-related benefit.”
Tragically, one in eight older people in this group reported they had no friends at all.
Dr Thomas Stuttaford is Patron of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust