Social life 'wards off senile dementia'

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The best defence against dementia is a lively social life, a study of the elderly has revealed.

The best defence against dementia is a lively social life, a study of the elderly has revealed.

Isolated elderly people living alone, who have few friends and little social contact with others, have a 60 per cent higher risk of developing Alzheimer's and similar diseases, says a study published in The Lancet.

The finding raises doubts about the current policy of keeping elderly people in their own homes where they may be cut off from contact with others.

In England, almost half the 3.7 million elderly people aged over 75 live alone, but there are only 450,000 places in residential and nursing homes. Many of the 16,000 private homes are facing closure because of a cap on fees paid by the state.

Tim Evans, the director of public affairs at the Independent Healthcare Association, said: "There are an awful lot of benefits to be gained from residential homes because of their communal spirit and the entertainment they provide."

The Lancet study of 1,200 people aged over 75 living in Stockholm, found 176 developed dementia over three years. Those who lived alone or who were without close social ties were at increased risk but the frequency of social contact was less important than whether it was satisfying.

When all the components were combined in an index, a poor or limited social network increased the risk of dementia by 60 per cent.

Dr Laura Fratiglioni, who was involved in the Stockholm Gerontology Research Centre study, said: "The most obvious implication of this study will be the necessity to rethink all public health policy for the elderly. For years the priority has been given to home services."

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