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Build Those Social Connections — at Every Age

A woman taking a selfie with two men outside
Catherine Ledner/Getty Images

A healthy brain needs healthy social relationships.

“We are hardwired to form attachments and to be engaged with others,” says Laura Carstensen, professor of psychology and founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity at Stanford University.

Gathering with friends and family seems to protect cognitive function. Although the research doesn’t prove that nurturing relationships cause a healthy brain, Carstensen says, the link is pretty compelling.

Social connection — and the lack of it — is a focus of a 2023 health advisory from the U.S. surgeon general called “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation.” It points to research showing that having and nurturing social connections may reduce the risk of dementia and are associated with better brain function.

Scientists attribute these benefits to the rush of neurotransmitters released when humans are in the company of others. Such experiences are thought to cause the brain to receive more oxytocin, also known as the “bonding hormone,” along with dopamine and serotonin. Those hormones increase our sense of well-being and decrease stress, says Lou Cozolino, a psychologist and professor of psychology at Pepperdine University. 

Staying socially engaged isn’t always easy for many older adults. But it’s worth the effort. “It’s important for people who are getting older to remain involved with their kids and grandkids and their communities,” Cozolino says. Contributing to the “tribe,” he says, feels good and keeps the mind strong.

To learn more about social connections and your brain, read this article in Staying Sharp

This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide any expert, professional or specialty advice or recommendations. Readers are urged to consult with their medical providers for all questions.

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