When Marlyn Labiuk’s husband died a few years ago, she decided not to live alone.
“I moved my son, his wife and my grandson in,” the Calgary senior said.
Having her kids close by has made her feel less lonely — and according to new research, it may also have lowered her dementia risk.
“We followed dementia free people for over 10 years for incidence of dementia,” said Dr. Mizanur Khondoker, a senior lecturer in medical statistics at the University of East Anglia in the UK.
After going through a decades worth of data involving more than 10,000 older adults, researchers found those who experienced positive social support from their adult children were less likely to develop dementia, and those who experienced negative social support had an increased risk.
“We asked; how much do they criticize you? How much do they let you down when you are counting on them? And, how much do they get on your nerves?” said Khondoker.
According to the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada, there are over half a million Canadians currently living with some form of dementia — a number that’s expected to almost double within 15 years. The exact cause of dementia is still largely unknown, but this isn’t the first time research has linked dementia risk with social interaction.
“Our findings add to the growing evidence of the relevance of social relationships for cognitive health in older age,” said research co-author, Andrew Steptoe, a professor at University College London.
“The research highlights the value of thinking about social relationship issues in individuals vulnerable to dementia.”
While the research has identified a link between social support and dementia, researchers are unable to say if it causes dementia. It may be that early symptoms of dementia among older adults is causing relationships with adult children to break down. Still, Khondoker says there is no harm in being nice to older relatives.
“Give them some time to have nice conversation and be less critical of their, maybe unexpected, behaviors due to aging or cognitive deterioration. That is always going to be helpful,” Khondoker.