Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Does socializing prevent dementia?

Good to see that the "chicken and egg" nature of the results is recognized below. That the last two paragraphs below exist in a logical vacuum is not recognized, however.

Socializing with friends and family can do more than lift the spirits of elderly women - it can improve cognition and might help prevent dementia, according to a new study. The study began in 2001 and included women at least 78 years old who were free of signs of dementia. Researchers conducted follow-up interviews between 2002 and 2005. "We've interviewed people who were not demented and who were able to report on their social network at baseline in 2001," said lead author Valerie Crooks. "By starting with people who are cognitively intact and following them over time, you can begin to make a legitimate link between social networks and dementia."

Crooks is director of clinical trials administration and a research scientist at the Southern California Permanente Medical Group. The study appears in the July issue of The American Journal of Public Health.

Women frequently experience increasing social isolation as they age, but it has been difficult to make a solid connection between this social separation and cognitive function and dementia. For this study, researchers pooled data from 2,249 members of a health maintenance organization, comparing health conditions and demographic information for women with and without dementia at follow-up, at which time they identified 268 new dementia cases in the previously screened women.

The researchers rated each woman's social network by asking about the number of friends and family members who kept in regular contact, and of these, how many she felt she could rely on for help or confide in. Of the 456 women with low "social network" scores, 80 women (18 percent) had developed dementia. Of the 1793 women with stronger social networks, 188 (10 percent) had developed dementia.

"The study does a laudatory job of addressing the relationship of these variables," said Deborah Newquist, Ph.D., director of geriatric services at Louisville, Ky.-based ResCare, Inc. However, concluding that isolation causes dementia might be overstating the case, said Newquist, who is not associated with the study. "The fundamental problem here is one of the chicken and the egg," she said. "Are weak social relationships caused by dementia or the other way around?"

""Finding ways to help older adults remain engaged in productive and enjoyable activities is an important component of successful aging," said Cathleen Connell, Ph.D., head researcher at the Center for Managing Chronic Disease at the University of Michigan. "Not only have social networks been linked to positive physical and mental health outcomes, but also to quality of life."

"Our findings indicate that it's important to think about ways to try to reduce the amount of isolation people have - even those with families," Crooks said. "It's also important for us to find out what kinds of social support groups we can create for people who are isolated based on extreme age or lack of family."


Cell phones and wasting gasoline

Post below excerpted from TigerHawk . See the original for links. More unintended consequences of a "health and safety" directive

I have long railed against laws that require "hands free" use of cell phones while driving. I believe they are unsupported by evidence -- accidents have declined substantially during the cell phone era -- and opinion to the contrary is a function of observer bias. I also believe that they are causing people to waste gasoline.

I use an ear bud, but more and more people are using bluetooth systems built into their cars or added with aftermarket devices. These systems cut off when the driver turns off the car's engine, so people are increasingly in the habit of sitting in idling cars to talk on the telephone rather than terminating the phone call merely because they have arrived at their destination. Not only have I seen beloved family members do this, but in the last few months -- since New Jersey made handheld cell phone use a primary offense -- I have been on the other end of numerous calls in which my counterparty was sitting in an idling automobile. Today, after having dropped my son off at the SAT administration at the Hun School, I walked back out to the parking lot only to see the cars on both sides of mine idling while the drivers chatted away on their speaker phones.

This is idiocy on stilts, but a perfectly predictable consequence of the ridiculous "hands free" laws. The nanny staters are, apparently, going to have to choose between the various ways to boss us around.....

The more likely explanations for the decline in accidents during the cell-phone era are, first, that talking on cells phones is substituting for other forms of distraction (putting on makeup, reading maps, looking at fascinating things along the way) or, second, that people who talk on phones compensate by driving more conservatively while they talk. If, for example, a significant proportion of the people who talk on phones slow down a bit, do not fluctuate their speed, and avoid changing lanes (as I and many other drivers obviously do), then it may be that cell phones have contributed to the huge improvement in road safety in the last twenty years.

In any case, the "hands free" laws make absolutely no sense to me. If the point is that it is distracting to have something in your hand then we should also abolish cup-holders and the eating of food. If the point is that it is distracting to have a conversation in the car, then we should ban conversations between passengers and the driver. Both suggestions are so laughable that they immediately reveal the stupidity of the "hands free" laws, which serve no actual purpose other than to give the constabulary yet another reason to pull you over.

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