Communication, Connection, Contribution to the Community, & Ye Olde Cognitive Skills

May 20, 2009 at 1:38 pm Leave a comment

Your Brain and Community: Part of Alzheimer's Prevenion & Help (Image Credit: Lusi from StockXChange) Social Activity and Stress Reduction.

… Two of the “Seven Keys” to aging successfully and keeping  a healthy, fit brain. These two keys also can be two of the most challenging aspects as we grow older, when our links to community may fade, and communication  may become a struggle because of hearing problems or cognitive declines.

The process of aging can be isolating.  The family has left home and likely moved away.  Illness may limit mobility and activity.  Loved ones, lifelong friends and neighbors have passed away.  It’s all too easy to gradually retreat into a sort of self imposed solitary confinement – isolation that becomes a spiral of depression, stress, and diminishing mental function.

Our ability to communicate with others is crucial for mental health; when it’s taken away through the process of disease or isolation, we lose an important aspect of our ability to interact with  and act upon our world. That, in turn, which in turn, increases stress levels, causes or deepens depression, and saps the ability and desire to be productive,  and the quality of life begins to decline.  Even worse, isolation increases the risks of cognitive declines, the stress of loneliness is especially damaging to the brain – prolonged stress can kill off brain cells even in the young.

It may be tempting to try and relieve stress by withdrawing from the world around us – a tactic that might relieve the immediate anxiety, but which in the long run, may reduce our cognitive health even more than the original stress.

The Science of Social Activity

There’s mounting evidence that social activity itself contributes to maintaining cognitive health.  In one study, pairs of male twins were evaluated over 28 years according to their levels of activity, cognitive abilities, and evidence of dementia. The more mentally active the men were, the less likely they were to develop dementia, and when it did develop, it showed up later in their life, rather than earlier.

The study didn’t stop there, though… the researchers looked even more deeply at the types of mental activity the men engaged in. Those who were active with family, friends, group and club activities did better than those whose mental activities were more passive (reading, studying, etc).

There seems to be something unique in social activity that gives an added Communication: Part of Alzheimer's Prevention and Help.  Image Credit:Lusi on Stock.Xchngeprotective boost to the brain, and it does make sense. Interaction with others stimulates our brains, engaging communication and emotional centers, mirror neurons, and countless other areas of mental function.  Equally important, human contact helps reduce the damages stress.

The good news, of course, is that it’s relatively easy to stay socially engaged, and to help keep others around us socially engaged and communicating, too.  Maybe one of the best gifts we can give ourselves and those around us is to stay engaged with them.  It’s good for us, it’s good for them, it reduces stress, helps protect our brains against declines, gives us a purpose, gives back to the community, reduces stress…

That’s why I find stories like Josephine’s so compelling; her art installations are a means of communicating and interacting with the world,  a way of exchanging information with her daughter.  Even with Alzheimer’s, it keeps Josephine connected, and the self expression it allows almost certainly helps her live a happier life.

Her daughter, Annie, takes it a step further – through finding, photographing and sharing Josephine’s arrangements with the world, she engages others, creates added meaning to her own life, and encourages all of us to look at communication and engagement differently.

Communication and  Community Contributions

In a world where hectic, busy lives, distance, anxieties and stress seem to isolate us all more and more, the potential benefits of engaging others are truly astounding.  It protects our own brains, stimulates the brains of those we’re engaged with, helps to keep our community and circle of contacts healthy and able to contribute.

I’d like to see this sort of knowledge as the dawn of a new approach, one that sees visits to retirement homes and shut-ins as more than just a duty, more than just “cheering up” elders. With the scientific evidence for the benefits of social and community engagement, I’d like to see our culture begin to see just how very much we can all gain through staying connected, expanding our definitions of communication to include things like Josephine’s art, and using that  new understanding to contribute and build a stronger community even as we’re building up our own cognitive health.

Communication, Social Connection, and Contribution to Community: Part of Alzheimer’s prevention, treatment, and just general good living.

If you’d like a deeper look at that twin study mentioned earlier, here’s a link to an article on the topic: Yale Medical Group: Men’s Alzheimer’s Risk Lowered with Active Lifestyle

Entry filed under: Be Socially Active!. Tags: , , , , , , .

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About This Blog

A healthy mind and brain is key to a healthy, active life. Come along for the ride as we explore the basics of brain health, with topics including:
  • Physical Exercise
  • Cognitive Training
  • Stress Management
  • Social Interaction
  • Sleep
  • Nutrition
  • A Sense of Purpose & Connection
Authored by Tori Deaux
Sponsored by Dakim Brain Fitness



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