Protect Your Memory With A Good Social Life

If you’re looking to preserve your memory, you’ll need to ensure that you have a strong social network. According to a new study done in mice, keeping in touch with your friends over the years might be the best thing for your memory.

The study

Researchers from Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio set out to clarify whether having a large social network could protect one’s cognitive abilities and if a lack of a social life could be attributed to memory problems. To do so, the researchers worked with mice aged 15–18 months (which is around the time that their brains start to age and cognitive abilities begin to decline). Some of the mice lived in pairs (referred to as the old-couple model) while others were housed in groups of seven for three months, allowing for complex interactions. All of them had equal opportunities to learn and explore. Then, in order to determine how social interactions might influence their capability when it came to learning and memory, the researchers also exposed them all to a number of tests. One test required the mice to recognize that a toy, such as a plastic car, had been moved to a new location. Another test was a maze-type memory exercise in which the mice were all set down on a round and brightly lit surface with holes. The darker holes signified safe escape tunnels and the mice would search these out.

The results on memory

The study revealed that the mice housed in groups had better memory and healthier brains than those living in pairs. In regards to the toy test – the group-housed mice were much better at remembering what they had seen before and went to the toy in a new location, ignoring another toy that had not moved. The pair-housed mice, on the other hand, had no idea that the object had been moved. In terms of the maze test, the group-housed mice would memorize the location of the escape routes and quickly locate them, each time they did the test. The pair-housed mice, however, systematically checked the holes for the escape routes – almost as if they had not already learned their location. Lead author of the study and assistant professor of behavioral neuroscience at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, Elizabeth Kirby compared this behavior to when humans are trying to remember where they parked. If they have some semblance of where they parked, it’s easier to navigate directly to their car as opposed to walking around the entire parking lot.

The verdict

Although more studies (preferably done in humans) are need to properly examine the connection between social groups, longevity of life and brain health, this study does present some interesting points. The study emphasises the positive effect social connections can have in preserving
the mind as memory tends to decline naturally with age in both humans and animals. Although a lot of people can end up isolated not by choice, Kirby stresses the importance of people making informed decisions about where and how they may want to live as they age. Your choice of accommodation could either encourage social interactions or hinder you from enjoying a rich social life.
Read more about the study here

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