How Friendship Keeps Our Brains Healthy

  • Members of Surrey Media celebrating the Kentucky Derby

Women with big social networks reduce their risk of dementia by 26%.

Three years after Christine McCleary’s father died, she started noticing changes in her mom, Stella. A typically active woman who always had lots of friends, Stella started skipping church services, which was out of character for her. She stopped wearing makeup and didn’t always remember to launder her clothes. Not only that, Stella, 86, began spending more and more time alone in her apartment and often couldn’t remember what day of the week it was. McCleary was no longer sure that her mom, who lived thousands of miles away, was remembering to eat regular meals.

“We knew that things were going downhill,” says McCleary, 56, but the final straw came during a frantic phone call. “She thought my father was there, and he’d been dead at the time for three years. That made us say, hey, she can’t be living on her own anymore.”

So Stella moved from her longtime home near Pittsburgh to a senior residence in Reno, Nev., close to McCleary and her husband. Stella went from having maybe two social interactions a week to living in a building with more than 200 of her peers. Within a month she was applying blush and wearing jewelry. She started playing bridge every week and walking three miles a day.

Her conversations became animated again. “It was like the clock was turned back four years,” says McCleary’s husband Larry, 59. “You could tell she enjoyed getting up in the morning.”

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