Get Social!

Coffee for two I’ve been writing about five key elements to brain health over the past couple of weeks.  Here’s the list I started with (and links to the resulting posts):

Bet you can guess which topic this post is going to be about!

It’s an odd connection—brain health and a wide social network.  But there’s no denying it.  The more social you are—i.e., the larger your network of friends and acquaintances—the less likely you are to develop Alzheimer’s or any other kind of dementia.  Up to 50% less likely

In 100 Simple Things You Can Do To Prevent Alzheimer’s, the author, Jean Carper, wrote about two elderly women—one 80, one 90—who, upon their death, were examined and found to both have “severe brain pathology,” and confirmed Alzheimer’s.  The kicker was that one of the women had all the signs and symptoms of the disease, but the other (the 90-year-old)—just as seriously affected internally—seemed to rise above the disease.  It turns out that the older, “unaffected” woman had a social circle ten times larger than the younger woman who showed all the symptoms.  Researchers said that the older woman’s social network gave her a strong “cognitive reserve” that enabled her to withstand the devastation to her brain.

I read an article several years ago about centenarians—people who have lived till at least 100 years of age—that explored the secrets to their longevity.  On the very short list of things that they shared in common was their socialness.  They all had a wide circle of friends and family that they related to on a regular basis.  In fact, to be more specific, sharing a meal with others daily is one of the practices common to the world’s longest-living people.  Loneliness, on the other hand, is a prime predictor of Alzheimer’s—it doubles one’s risk of getting the disease.

Still, all this begs the question: what is the connection between socialization and brain health?  Researchers theorize that socializing makes the brain more efficient, prodding it to find new, alternative routes of communication to bypass neuronal trash and broken connections in the brain caused by Alzheimer’s.  But regardless of the theories, the bottom line is: to be healthy, we must be in community, we must avoid isolation.  “No man is an island.”

When thinking about my social network, I try to make sure there are three different groups represented in my life: mentors, peers, and mentorees (I’m not sure that last one is a word, but you get the idea).

A mentor is not just someone that I look up to, but it is someone I take counsel—even correction—from.  It’s like an Apostle Paul in my life—one who can say to me, “Follow me, as I follow Christ…”  It’s someone I can learn from, not just by listening to what they say, but watching how they live and following suit.

A peer is someone I can share my heart with, someone I can have fun with.  Generally—but not always—peers are of the same “station” in life (young parents, retirees, single, married, etc.).

Mentorees are those that I mentor, those to whom I say, “Follow me, as I follow Christ…”

Then, of course, there are casual acquaintances and co-workers.  They have a place in my life and heart, too, just not as strategic or purposeful.

The important component to any relationship is regular contact.  That means talking, doing things together, going places, eating together.  Just calling them a friend won’t do the trick.  It’s all about being truly connected rather than isolated.  “God sets the solitary in families.”

Do you have all three kinds of “friends” in your social network?  Do you find one group easier or harder to build than the others?  I’m interested in your feedback.  Leave me a comment.

Photo compliments of maistora via Compfight

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