Having Friends Has Health Benefits for Seniors

A new study found that having friends adds to quality of life in more ways than one.

Of course, having warm, supportive relationships adds joy to life, but according to researchers, for people older than 80, friends have given them the memory capacity of people much younger, in the range of 50 to 65.

“One explanation is that maintaining friendships keeps your brain active and engaged,” said Emily Rogalski, study co-author. She is also an associate professor at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Chicago’s Northwestern University.

“You could think of this like healthy exercise for your brain,” Rogalski stated.

The study is not proof that good relationships lead to healthy memory function, however. There is a distinct possibility that the connection is more complex.

Rogalski also said that the research showed that brain-challenging activities elevate the creation of new brain cells and neural connections.

The study did not explore what kind of relationships improves memory skills. Whether marriages, friends, or other social connections have more or less of an effect on memory.

Also unclear is whether it is the friendships that improve the memory, or whether people with good memories attract more people to being their friend.

“We can’t really say which causes which. But there have been other studies that show that engaging with a wide variety of social partners, friends and families is better for cognition over time,” said a different scientist, Karen Fingerman, professor at the University of Texas at Austin, who studies aging.

“It makes sense that relationships with other people boost the brain,” Fingerman added.

“Humans are innately social creatures, and our brains are wired for social stimulation,” she explained. “It is likely that engaging with friends and family may involve stimulating conversations, problem-solving, or activities that enhance well-being and cognitive functioning.”