people socializing

Having a great circle of friends and maintaining strong social networks may just be another key to helping maintain memory and brain health. A study by Ohio State University has discovered that mice which have been housed in groups had much healthier brains and better memories than those who lived in pairs.

The study helps confirm the role social connections make in improving quality of life and preserving memory. Maintaining a large social network can have very positive influences on the aging of the brain says Elizabeth Kirby, assistant professor of behavioral neuroscience and a member of the Center for Chronic Brain Injury at the university. It has already been established that humans have a strong correlation between social connections and cognitive health. What wasn’t clear was whether having a group of friends protected people or if people with brain health that was declining were withdrawing from their connections.

The study was designed to answer this question by using an animal model. Some mice were housed for three months with six roommates to allow for complex interactions. Other mice lived in pairs known as the old couple model. All mice were 15 to 18 months old for the experiment which is a time of natural memory decline in the lifespan of rodents.

When the mice that were group housed were tested for memory they fared much better than the pairs. Moving an object was the test. The group housed mice were better at remembering what they had seen and went to the object in the new location. The paired mice had no idea the object had even been moved.

The researchers also conducted a maze-based memory test with holes that led to escape hatches. The group housed mice improved with each trial memorizing where the escape doors were and walked directly to them. The coupled mice did not get faster even when the tests were repeated several times over the course of a day. They continued to search each hole rather than remembering where the ones were that led to the escape hatch. The group housed mice were using the hippocampus, the area of the brain that relates to good memory function. With age the hippocampus declines fairly markedly even when dementia is not present. Social ties and exercise are known to help improve memory in this part of the brain.

The study indicated the differences appeared to be due to socialization alone as opposed to previous studies which focused on mice that had highly enriched environments comparing them with mice that did not. Further research is planned which will explore the molecular explanations for the connection between improved memory and brain health and socialization. However, the recent study stresses how important social connections are as we age.

To view the original scientific study click here: A Larger Social Network Enhances Novel Object Location Memory and Reduces Hippocampal Microgliosis in Aged Mice. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 2018; 10 DOI: 10.3389/fnagi.2018.00142

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