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SOCIALISING FOR BETTER BRAIN HEALTH
PROFESSOR HENRY BRODATY AND PROFESSOR PERMINDER SACHDEV,
CO-DIRECTORS, CENTRE FOR HEALTHY BRAIN AGEING (CHeBA)
People who have more social contacts
are less likely to develop dementia and
will generally be affected by Alzheimer’s
disease about a decade later than their
less-social peers. This could just be
reverse causality. The pathological brain
changes involved in Alzheimer’s disease
gradually build over the course of the 20
to 30 years before the disease becomes
apparent, so it could be that social
withdrawal occurs in many people with
Alzheimer’s disease because of subtle
brain changes prior to diagnosis.
On the other hand, the dementia
risk reduction associated with
a larger social network or social
engagement, which is shown by
some epidemiological studies, is fairly
large. The effect of increasing social
engagement on delaying dementia
disease progression could exceed that
of current FDA-approved medications.
The positive effects of social
engagement on cognitive function
have been demonstrated even at
the level of biomarkers. Recent
MRI studies found associations
between the size and complexity
of real-world social networks and
the density of grey matter and
amygdala volume – both markers
of healthier brains.
Even for those people who
develop Alzheimer’s disease,
larger social networks may modify
the level of symptoms. Non-
human research suggests that
social network size could actually
contribute to changes both in brain
structure and function, providing
further support for causal links.
For some, networking at cocktail
parties is akin to living hell. But there
are many ways of connecting for better
Meaningful engagement can be
through volunteering, joining an
exercise group, joining a club or
playing bridge. These are especially
important messages in the 21st
century as more people live alone,
particularly in later life.
Find out more about CHeBA at
Professor Brodaty is a Medical
Advisor to Alzheimer’s
Australia NSW and Professor
Sachdev is a Medical Advisor
to Alzheimer’s Australia.
HOW TO PLAN
Most people tend to think of activities for
someone with dementia as something
they have to think up to do with the
person, but it doesn’t have to be so.
They can simply be the everyday tasks
we do from the moment we open our
eyes in the morning, such as getting
dressed, doing housework, playing cards,
even paying bills.
“T hey can be active or passive, done
alone or with others,” Alzheimer’s
Australia NSW educator Pam Davis
says. “Activities represent who we
are and what we are about.”
Activities are an opportunity to be
involved in everyday tasks, enjoy and
create, spend quality time together, and
connect with the environment.
A person with dementia will eventually
need a carer’s assistance to organise and
structure their day. Planned activities can
enhance the person’s sense of dignity and
self-esteem by giving more purpose and
meaning to his or her life.
Activities structure time. They can make
the best of a person’s abilities, enhance
quality of life and facilitate relaxation.
Engaging in activities can also reduce
behaviour like walking about or agitation.
It can be helpful when finding activities
for a person with dementia to think of the
three Rs: role, repetition and routine.
A role is something a person does
regularly that contributes to their home
life. To identify the role, ask ‘what are
some roles that the person used to do, or
still manages, but maybe only just?’ and
think about how you could modify the role
to work with the person now.
The idea is that with repetition, the role
will become a routine, which you can do as
often as necessary or as many times as you
can at regular intervals and at the best time
of the day for the person with dementia.
Simple ways to make roles, routines
and activities easier for the person living
with dementia are to make all the items
needed accessible and visible, and to
use labels, for example broom cupboard,
breakfast items, laundry to be folded.
When two routines can occur together,
the presence of one can help to bring
the other to mind. You can try combining
the routines of taking tablets and eating
breakfast or sweeping the path and
For more information about
education offered by Alzheimer’s
Australia NSW, see page 16.
ROLES THAT THE
PERSON USED TO PLAY,
AND THINK ABOUT HOW
YOU COULD MODIFY THE
ROLE TO WORK NOW.
27/03/15 1:32 PM
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