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Modern Day Socialization

One of the five main pillars of my Brain Health Lifestyle ® is Socialization. The human brain is nurtured with social interaction and the mental stimulation such human connection can promote. Research has consistently shown that humans who isolate and segregate have a higher risk of dementia, including that caused by Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

Traditional socialization includes gatherings of humans where face to face contact can occur. We have plenty of opportunity for this on a daily basis at home, work, school, sporting events, parties, meeting, and other such gatherings. There is a new type of socialization that has emerged, however, and I refer to this as “modern day socialization.”

Modern day socialization is born from the technology age and a generation of youth who communicate and interact via gadgets, not the mouth. Cell phones, computers, IPods, IPads, and videogames are the mechanics of such socialization. Programs such as email, text messaging, Ichat, Skype, and social media are used daily.

Research conducted at the University of Texas suggests that social networking sites like Facebook actually help in socialization. Findings indicate that Facebook does not supplant face to face interaction between friends and family. Indeed, such virtual social sites or social media actually promote opportunities for new expressions of friendship, debate, and even development of deeper relationships.

900 college students and recent graduates were surveyed about how and with whom they interact on Facebook. More than 60% of Facebook users said posting status updates was among the most popular activities, followed by 60% who wrote comments on their profile and 49% who posted messages and comments to friends.

Interestingly, the research indicated that while men and women use Facebook they do so in different ways (supports gender differences in brain function). Women tend to use more affectionate content and they are especially interested in connection. Men tend to use Facebook as a tool or as a functional means. As an example, women may post more pictures of social gatherings while men post pictures of hobbies or pop-culture link.

Facebook and other social media represent a new means for socialization. The underlying foundation of human interaction and the need for such interaction on brain health and overall wellbeing remains strong however. Technology will always advance, but the critical ingredients to human happiness will likely remain constant.

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Thanksgiving Holiday: Avoiding the Stressful Traps

As I provide my talks on brain health and lifestyle across the nation I spend some time talking about the importance of socialization to brain health. This includes remaining integrated in society, defining a role and purpose to your time, and building strong family and friendship networks. The latter point is the one that is perhaps most difficult for us as we all have tension in one or more relationships and these relationships are often within the family.

I often offer audience members the idea of teaching the next psychopathology class at the local university with me. I let them know that Thanksgiving is a wonderful real world laboratory to observe and experience plenty of family/friend based tension to talk about during the class!
On a more serious note, Thanksgiving Holiday is a wonderful time to be with family and friends, reflect on all we have, and pray for those who are hurting or alone. This is only true, however, if we permit our experience of this holiday to be positive and to avoid the many traps of stress and tension that exist on this wonderful Thursday each November.

One key to achieving the positive outcome with Thanksgiving is to keep your focus on the larger picture and refrain from the small stuff. Enjoy the time with your family and pay attention to the effort made to provide a nice meal. Listen to the stories and simply look at those around you. What if this was your last Thanksgiving? Go overboard with the praise and thanks to those who provide the meal and open their home to you. Have the courage to tell everyone there something positive, especially to those where the tension exists. Think about those who may not be able to be there with you and let everyone know you are thinking of them. Praise our veterans who are many miles away from home on this day. Above all, give thanks for the opportunity to enjoy this great day.

Some research indicates our brains’ electrical activity is generated in the front left region when we have positive and hopeful thoughts. Similar activity is generated in the right front region when we are nervous or anxious, stressed, and perhaps negative in our thinking. The key to Thanksgiving is to focus on the positive, get the left front region of your brain busy, and enjoy the good feelings that will emerge.

Stay with the big picture of the day and do not focus on the small stuff!

Happy Thanksgiving.

Dr. Nussbaum

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Heavy Smoking in Midlife and Dementia

A new study published in Archives of Internal Medicine indicates a relationship between heavy smoking in midlife and increased risk for dementia. This includes both vascular dementia (VaD) and Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

Prospective data from a multiethnic population-based cohort of 21,123 members of a health care system who participated in a survey between 1978 and 1985 was analyzed. Of that group, 25% were diagnosed as having dementia during a follow-up period of 23 years. Compared to nonsmokers, those smoking more than two packs a day evinced an elevated risk of dementia.

The authors concluded that heavy smoking in midlife was associated with a greater than 100% increase in the risk of dementia, AD and VaD more than two decades later. Results suggest the brain in vulnerable to long term consequences of heavy smoking.

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Retirement and Brain Health

My brain health lifestyle ® advocates remaining integrated and involved with personally relevant roles across your lifespan. Retirement, defined from a traditional sense, suggests the opposite and seems to advocate a withdrawal from society, a tendency towards isolation and passive existence. Surveys indicate baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) will not rely on the traditional form of retirement and instead will redefine their roles several times as they get older. This is most likely a very positive sign from a brain health perspective.

My thought is that an active and stimulated brain is healthy. Studies in animals have shown the relationship between socialization and mental stimulation and structural and functional brain health. There have also been plenty of studies to show a similar relationship in humans. While there is not a cause and effect, we should not underestimate the value of the relationship.

A recent study published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives suggests that the earlier people retire, the more quickly their memory ability erodes. Data was gathered from the United States and 11 European countries as part of an NIA study that began 20 years ago. 22,000 or more Americans 50 years of age and older were surveyed every two years and administered memory tests. This led Europeans to do their own surveys using similar questions so the data could be compared.

The memory test measured free recall of a list of 10 nouns immediately after presentation and then again 10 minutes after they were first presented. Respondents in the United States scored an average of 11/20 while those in Europe recalled less. The authors of the study noticed large differences in the years people retired. In the U.S., England, and Denmark, retirement 65 to 70% of men were still working in their 60s. In France and Italy, the figure is 10 to 20% and 38% in Spain.

Researchers found a direct relationship between percentage of persons in a nation who are working at age 60-64 and their performance on memory tests. The longer people in a country keep working, the better, as a group, they do on tests when they are in their early 60s.

More work is needed to better understand the multiple factors that can play a role in this significant relationship. However, it appears clear that work remains a positive aspect or function to health as we get older and fits with the idea that remaining integrated and involved with personal meaningful roles is beneficial to brain health.

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