To Be or Not to Be…Social

To Be or Not to Be…Social

July 18, 2019

By Karen Wilkinson,  RN, NHA, CLNC – CareerSmart® Learning Contributor

Our brain weighs three pounds and processes 70,000 thoughts each day through 100 billion neurons and 500 trillion synapses.  These signals travel 300 miles per hour, generate enough electricity to power a light bulb, and are the basis of what we cherish—our memories, thoughts, and feelings.  Most importantly, our brains get better with use.  Brain health is a fascinating topic and an area of active research.  Why?  We are in the midst of a looming tsunami relative to the amount of people affected by Alzheimer’s disease.  Currently, there are five million Americans living with Alzheimer’s, and the number is expected to rise to 135 million by 2050 if no cure is found.  Whether you are involved in providing care to those who are affected by Alzheimer’s disease, or you are making the journey with a loved one through the ravages of the illness, these are important numbers.  With no cure known at present, how can we mitigate the risk for memory loss?

Cleveland Clinic’s Healthy Brain Initiative emphasizes Six Pillars of Brain Health connected to our lifestyle that can help reduce and control the risk for memory decline: 

  • Physical exercise and activity that help both our hearts and our brains,
  • Healthy food and nutrition such as the Mediterranean or DASH diet with a little dark chocolate, coffee, tea, and red wine thrown in,
  • Control of medical risks such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, head trauma, high cholesterol, and smoking, 
  • Healthy sleep practices and management of stress,
  • Mental exercise and fitness that build your “brain reserve” to resist damage, and
  • Social interaction.

Although most of these may come as no surprise, social interaction may be an area that you hadn’t considered before.  Let’s look at this particular pillar and its importance.

According to the Healthy Brain Initiative, staying connected through rich social networks and happy long-term relationships provides benefits that include intellectual stimulation, social support, stress reduction, and management of depression.   Most significantly, an inverse relationship between social interaction and memory loss is noted; the more social interaction a person has, the slower the rate of memory decline.  On the other hand, loneliness has been linked to the development of memory problems and Alzheimer’s disease and was noted by the Surgeon General to be “as bad for your health as smoking.” 

Whether an extrovert or introvert, it is important to develop and nurture social connections.  We can do this in a number of ways, such as reaching out and spending time with friends or family, sharing hobbies, attending church groups or book clubs, participating in physical activities like walking groups, water aerobics, or team sports, taking part in cultural activities, volunteering, getting a pet, or taking a class to learn something new. 

Don’t neglect this important pillar of brain health.  You are only limited by your imagination when identifying new social activities!  Now, that’s something to think about.

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1 Cleveland Clinic. (2019). You are Your Brain.  Retrieved July 14, 2019 from

2 Cleveland Clinic. (2019). Healthy Brains Initiative.  Retrieved July 14, 2019 from

3 Cleveland Clinic. (2019). 6 Pillars of Brain Health.  Retrieved July 14, 2019 from

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