Staying connected in church
Staying connected in church

There’s a sense of dejá-vue about some of the studies  presented at the Alzheimer’s International Conference currently taking place in Washington.   For example, a study by researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden monitored the life style factors of more than 7,500 over 65 year olds for more than 20 years.   They also checked their school grades at 10 years of age, and found that those who performed poorly at school at age 10 were 21 per cent more likely to develop dementia in later years. But those who got top scores and then went on to complex jobs  involving data and numbers saw their dementia risk fall by 39 per cent.  There’s much to be said about having a mentally demanding job, it seems.   The study also found that  loneliness raised the risk , suggesting that keeping socially connected is vital for a fully engaged mind.

Research findings have to be replicated by others before they become de facto, but the dejá–vue comes from an earlier longitudinal study by David Snowdon, in 1986 at the University of Minnesota, which produced almost the same findings.  His team studied nearly 700 nuns, who were living in a religious retirement home to examine the effects of ageing on the brain and the onset of dementia.  Most of them had been teachers.  They  were  ideal for scientific study because their stable, relatively similar lives precluded certain factors from contributing to illness.  As well as their physical and mental health, essays they had written as Novices before initiation years earlier were studied.   Nuns who had written essays that were ‘densest’ in terms of ideas and articulation, were found to be less likely to have developed dementia.   Another discovery was that those with a positive outlook seemed to have more protection than those with negative emotions.  (See Positive Emotions in Early Life and Longevity: Findings from the Nun Study, at )

Findings showing that loneliness is a risk factor for dementia have been around for years now.  Professor Robert Wilson, at the Center for Ageing, Rush University Chicago, says that the link is so clear that pharmaceutical companies should develop a medication that can address them.  But, as I said in an earlier post – the answer, surely, is to have people in your life – stay socially connected.   Many people I know volunteer for charity work – one lady works in a charity shop three days a week.  God’s design for human beings is that they ‘work’ well when they ‘work’ together.

chickens nd company
keeping chickens and company

A good pecking order.

Sometimes, it’s simple, old fashioned ways that work the best.  In London, older people are being given hens to look after to stop them feeling lonely and isolated.  Dubbed HenPower, the scheme was dreamed up by creative ageing charity Equal Arts. There are 700 pensioners currently looking after hens in 20 care homes in the North East and the charity has been given Lottery funding to roll it out country-wide.  The schemes in London have been launched by Notting Hill Housing.  Tenant Ruth Xavier  said, ‘I like the project a lot. I am down there in my wheelchair in the morning letting the hens out and there last thing at night to see they’ve gone to bed.  … People have been bringing their children in to see the hens and residents come and sit outside to watch them.’  Wendy Wilson, extra care manager at an assisted housing complex said: ‘Residents have really embraced the idea of HenPower and the creative sessions. It gives us the opportunity for stimulating activities to engage people using our dementia unit, day service users and tenants.’  Read more in the Telegraph at

Louise Morse

Louise Morse MA (CBT) is media and external relations manager for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society. She is a writer and speaker, and author of books on issues of old age, including dementia, published by Lion Monarch and SPCK. She is a cognitive behavioural therapist, and her Masters’ dissertation examined the effects of caring for a loved one with dementia on close relatives.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.