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OSU study: Group living shown to aid memory

Special to the Legal News

Published: June 12, 2018

The results of a new Ohio State University study show that a strong social network could be the key to preserving memory.

Mice housed in groups had better memories and healthier brains than animals that lived in pairs, bolstering a body of research in both humans and animals that supports the role of social connections in preserving the mind and improving quality of life, researchers found.

"Our research suggests that merely having a larger social network can positively influence the aging brain," said researcher Elizabeth Kirby, an assistant professor of behavioral neuroscience and member of the Center for Chronic Brain Injury at Ohio State. "We know that in humans there's a strong correlation between cognitive health and social connections, but we don't know if it's having a group of friends that's protecting people or if it's that people with declining brain health withdraw from their human connections."

Kirby, a member of the Neurological Institute at Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center, said in humans, mice and many other animals, brain function in the hippocampus markedly declines with age, even in the absence of dementia.

Exercise and social ties are known to preserve memory in this region in people, she added.

Previous research in this area has primarily focused on mice that have highly enriched environments with lots of toys and opportunities for exercise and compared them with mice without as much to do, a press release detailed.

The current study, published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, goes further by showcasing differences that appear to be due to socialization alone, Kirby said.

People who are aging would do well to consider how their choices about where to live might impact their ability to be social, she suggested.

"Something as basic as how long it takes to drive or walk to a friend's house can make a big difference as we get older," she said. "A lot of people end up isolated not by choice, but by circumstance. 'Over the river and through the woods' might be fun for the kids, but it's probably not so great for Grandma."

Other Ohio State researchers who worked on the study were Bryon Smith and Xinyue Yao.

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