At this year’s JACL National Convention in Salt Lake City, I met Shin from Palo Alto, Calif. We were van seatmates on our way to visit the Topaz concentration camp and the museum that has been built there.
We were not even out of the Little America Hotel parking lot, and I could tell that Shin was a walking and talking example of someone who continues to stay socially active and mentally sharp. At one point, I even suggested that he should write a book about his world travels and life experiences.
How many people can say they have visited 100 cities in Japan, toured South America, Europe and rode the Trans-Siberian railway through Russia? In between his travels between cities, Shin taught English and worked on a farm in Japan for three months to teach the new owners farming skills from the United States.
Shin is in his 80s, and he had more energy and stories to tell than all of us in our van combined.
We all have read that staying socially active has always been good advice for staying happy and healthy. Well, now research shows just how meaningful those conversations and connections can be.
People who are more socially active in their 50s and 60s tend to have a lower risk of developing dementia, according to a new study. Researchers point to the concept of “cognitive reserve” — the mind’s ability to resist decline or failure.
Someone who saw friends almost daily at age 60 is 12 percent less likely to develop dementia than someone who only saw one or two friends every few months. Similar associations were found among people ages 50 and 70.
“People who are socially engaged are exercising cognitive skills such as memory and language, which may help them to develop cognitive reserve,” said the study’s senior author, Gill Livingston, a professor of psychiatry at University College London. “While it may not stop their brains from changing, cognitive reserve could help people cope better with the effects of age and delay any symptoms of dementia.”
Spending more time with friends can be tied to physical activity that also reduces the risk of dementia, according to Livingston.
“We’ve found that social contact, in middle age and late life, appears to lower the risk of dementia,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Andrew Sommerlad of University College London. “This finding could feed into strategies to reduce everyone’s risk of developing dementia, adding yet another reason to promote connected communities and find ways to reduce isolation and loneliness.”
In the United States, 5.8 million people have dementia linked to Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Chicago-based Alzheimer’s Assn. Nearly all of them are 65 or older.
One doesn’t need to travel the world like Shin, but being connected to people and pushing oneself or one’s loved ones to be socially connected are important to lower the risk of developing dementia.
As I left Salt Lake City, Shin was taking a midnight train back to Northern California. I had a chance to say goodbye as we departed our van, but I know that I just scratched the surface of his ongoing life journey from being an inmate in Topaz, farmer to world traveler, teacher and energetic lifelong learner. I hope our paths cross again, as Shin passed along his generational wisdom through his many stories and memories.
To learn more about the steps to help maintain and improve one’s brain health, join our AARP Teletown Call on Sept. 5 at 2:30 p.m. EST by registering at https://vekeo.com/event/aarpmclaapi-46591/.
Ron Mori is a member of the Washington, D.C., JACL chapter and manager of community, states and national affairs — multicultural leadership for AARP.