The featured paper is ‘Social Networks and their Role in Preventing Dementia’ by Jagan Pillai and Joe Verghese and freely available here. The authors are interested in how social factors in Indian society can influence dementia although they also remark that their findings are relevant to Western society. They note a number of changes in Indian society similar to those that have been described in Western society with migration from rural to urban areas as well as an aging demography. The authors then classify the study of social networks contrasting personal (radial) networks with what they term ‘total networks’ which specify the relationships between all members of the groups. The authors select a number of longitudinal studies but do not include a methodology section. They do mention that they have chosen a number of longitudinal studies where participants did not have dementia at baseline. In the section on ‘current studies in social networks and dementia’ they report that a number of the studies showed an inverse-relationship between late-life social contacts and dementia risk as well as other measures of pathology. However there is no documented statistical analysis nor are the resulting figures displayed. The authors then focus on mediating mechanisms for the posited relationship. These include a possible influence of cognitive reserve on the nature of social relationships, a general discussion of cultural factors, neurobiological factors including the effects of degeneration of the frontal lobe, ‘social cognition’ and the benefits of ‘stress reduction’ through social networks. This is a relatively short paper with a discussion of factors that may mediate a relationship between social networks and risk of dementia. From the discussion in this paper it seems as though there is a need for a larger number of outcome measures for investigating social relationships in this area. We might expect the nature of social relationships to change with age and it would be interesting to know more about ‘healthy aging social networks’. For instance do older adults that maintain social networks have shared interests that are health promoting? Do newly formed social networks in older adults have the same benefits as long established networks? How are social networks maintained when a person has a growing family and what are the characteristics of people who are able to maintain active social networks together with family life? While a lot of these questions do focus on the psychosocial aspects, it may be that answering such questions could feedback into the neurobiological models enriching these models.
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