Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Low Social Engagement May Point to Older Adults at Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

Spending little time engaging with friends and family or participating in activities outside the home may be a marker for possible cognitive decline in older adults who are still cognitively normal but show evidence of brain changes indicative of possible Alzheimer’s disease (AD), according to a report in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

“Understanding changes in social engagement in older adults may lead to earlier diagnosis of AD and advances in evidence-based prevention and treatment,” wrote senior author Nancy Donovan, M.D., chief of the Division of Geriatric Psychiatry at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and colleagues.

A total of 217 men and women aged 63 to 89 underwent assessments for social engagement and cognitive performance at baseline and three years later. The participants were evaluated using the Community Healthy Activities Model Program for Seniors questionnaire, including questions about the amount of time participants spent with friends and family outside the home, involvement with church and clubs, and more; the less total time participants reported engaging in such activities, the lower their total social engagement score. The Preclinical Alzheimer Cognitive Composite (PACC) assessed the episodic memory, executive function, and global cognition of the participants. Amyloid-β (a protein associated with AD) was measured using Pittsburgh Compound B-PET.

The researchers found that cognitively normal older adults with low levels of social engagement and evidence of accumulation of amyloid-β in the brain at baseline had greater cognitive decline at three years than those with high levels of social engagement at baseline. In contrast, higher baseline social engagement was associated with relative preservation of PACC, the authors reported.

“These findings emphasize the importance of social engagement as a resilience or vulnerability marker in older adults at risk of cognitive impairment due to AD and support recommendations promoting social engagement in older adults,” they wrote.

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Purpose in Life Linked to Physical Function in Older Adults.”

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