Social Engagement Can Link to Better Brain Health
How social are you? Do you live with or regularly see other people? Do you socialize with friends or loved ones outside of your work environment? Do you regularly talk to people on the telephone or via videoconference? Do you enjoy meeting new people or learning new things about others? Does how social a person chooses to be really matter?
While researchers continue to learn more, in the last couple of years much has been discovered regarding what is known as “social brain.” Social brain has to deal with the brain regions that support human social interactions, and most of those regions are found near the front of the brain behind a person’s eyes. Several parts of the brain work together to achieve various complex social interactions, such as recognizing someone else’s face, interpreting someone’s facial expressions, adapting one’s behavior to a situation, or thinking about another person’s mental state.
Although humans are not born with a pre-wired social brain, social interaction becomes an essential human trait. Over time and through repetition of social interactions, our social abilities are grown and improved. It is believed that infants may be born with the necessary brain parts to support social interactions, but through experiences and a person’s environment, the brain continues to develop, connect, and learn specializations. Genetics and biology contribute further, although additional research is still needed to fully understand all the ways affected.
Experiences and environments can greatly influence development of the social brain. While many people initially think of social neglect negatively impacting children, it can take a toll on people of all ages. On the flip side, positive social interactions can also benefit people of all ages. The cause and effect still have some overlap to be deciphered, in that there are debates as to if having a healthy brain leads to better social engagements, if having positive social engagements leads to keeping a healthier brain, or some of both.
Research has shown that while brain development starts as a child, that development still affects older adults. Older people who report higher levels of social engagement tend to have more robust gray matter in the regions of their brain that are related to dementia, according to research led by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. It has been suggested that encouraging older adults to socialize more could help ward off dementia, in similar ways that physical activity can help prevent heart disease in many people.
It is crucial that people understand that social engagements play a part in social brain health. Just as people need to consider physical and emotional health, social health needs to be addressed too. Healthy social engagements can include a diversity of activities, such as playing board games, traveling, going to the movies with friends, attending educational events, participating in community activities, volunteering, and even just getting together with friends and loved ones. Maintaining brain health is critical to keep brain cells from dying off, to help delay or prevent opening the door to diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
“Nothing is more fascinating than another human being,” said Beth Sanders, LifeBio founder and CEO. Spending time interacting with others is a workout for the social brain. Being able to engage in conversation, having to think about and process what someone else is saying, requires flexibility. People can be enriched by one another, in deeper ways than being challenged through doing a Sudoku or crossword puzzle, for example. The good news is that even mild “doses” of social engagement requiring facial or voice recognition and understanding of emotions, can be beneficial, and having social interactions does not have to cost a great deal.
Take time today and this week to be intentional about having social interactions with others. Watch a movie or video with a loved one. Bake a family recipe with your children. Call a family member or friend and have a long chat. Play a board game or an online game with other people. Ask your mother to tell you about when she was a little girl. Participate in a Bible study or a meditation group. Volunteer to help a neighbor. Attend an online lecture or class. Even if it means wearing a mask and being socially distant right now, attend sewing circle or go for a jog with your workout buddies. Be creative in doing something you enjoy while spending time with others.
LifeBio can also help you and your loved ones connect. We can help you reminisce through recording your life stories. We offer What's Your Story cards and journals with guided questions that can be used when visiting or calling family members. We have online templates of question to aid people in writing their own life stories or helping others share their memories. LifeBio also powers MyHello, which makes social engagement calls, both to individuals and through group calls each week. We would be honored and happy to help you and your loved ones get socially connected today.
Keeping your social brain healthy requires social interaction but does not have to be difficult. As Misty Copeland said, “Anything is possible when you have the right people there to support you.”