Researchers from EU-FINGERS, Lethe and Multi-MeMo projects advocate for social activities in dementia prevention interventions

An international team of researchers highlights the importance of social activities in preventing dementia, in an article called “Social activities in multidomain dementia prevention interventions: insights from practice and a blueprint for the future”, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, on 20 May 2024. They advocate for being clearer about what we mean by social activities, how to measure them, and use these insight in interventions. 

Current research is hindered by unclear definitions and a lack of standardized measures to assess social activities, resulting in fragmented evidence about protective effects against dementia. Therefore, the authors call for questionnaires that accurately capture engagement in social activities and use them as a point of departure for intervention activities.

Randomized controlled trials, such as the FINGER trial, show that multidomain interventions—including nutrition guidance, physical exercise, cardiovascular management, and cognitive training—can reduce the risk of dementia. These interventions benefit older adults who are cognitively healthy, have mild cognitive impairment, or prodromal Alzheimer’s disease.

The authors suggest that incorporating social activities into these interventions can enhance both adherence and effectiveness. Based on interviews, they conclude that participants highly value social activities that increase feelings of social support. One participant stated, “We are a good group of friends, or have become [during the intervention]. We have fun, laugh, and we do our best”.

The authors also explore the potential of digital technologies, such as smartphones, Fitbits, and apps, which are increasingly used to deliver interventions. There is uncertainty about the effectiveness of these technologies in measuring or enhancing social activities. Based on a workshop hosted by Alzheimer Europe, involving individuals at risk of dementia and those with cognitive complaints or dementia, the authors recommend using simple tools that increase in-person contact and consider privacy.

In conclusion, the researchers call for more efforts to incorporate social activities into interventions to enhance cognitive health in aging populations. They aim to (a) develop clear definitions and instructions for measuring social activities, (b) promote social engagement beyond intervention settings, for instance through community participation, and (c) ensure technology and interventions are co-created to address older adults’ needs, enhancing rather than replacing in-person activities.

The authors are working in three different EU-funded projects: EU-FINGERS, Lethe and Multi-MeMo. They are: Bruinsma J, Visser LNC, Abaci A, Rosenberg A, Diaz A, Hanke S, Crutzen R, Mangialasche F, Kivipelto M, Thunborg, C.

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