Conference 2023: Dementia Outlook-one day at a time

The focus of Conference is on Occupation and Activities. There are many benefits of being engaged in meaningful recreational activities and prescribed therapy.

Dr Matovic is studying socialization and brain health and will provide a video presentation.

What do we know about the role of social connections in brain health in older adults?

Social connections are important for brain health in older adults with healthy cognition and those who have mild cognitive impairment and dementia.

This article describes some key research studies in the area.

Social participation in older adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)
Studies show that increasing social participation in older adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) may reduce their risk of developing dementia. Individuals with MCI are 3.3 times more likely to develop dementia compared to age-matched participants over 2-5years 1.
However, greater frequency and variety of social activities is related to lower risk of progression from mild to severe cognitive impairment over 3 years 2. Another study found that engaging in community meetings or cultural classes was associated with a higher likelihood of reverting from MCI to cognitively healthy status over 4 years 3.
Despite the potential for social activity to reduce MCI, people with MCI typically report poor social support, social isolation, and loneliness 4.
This indicates that methods to increase social engagement in this population are needed.

Social participation in older adults with dementia
Similarly, social participation in people with mild-to-moderate dementia has the potential to slow cognitive decline. For example, a knitting group was shown to increase the use of cognitive processes such as memory and problem solving, and the use and maintenance of communication skills 5.
However, 50% of people living with dementia report being lonely and 70% have stopped doing their usual social activities due to psychological
barriers such concerns about reactions from other people, wandering, difficulties maintaining conversations, lack of confidence, and shrinking social networks 6, and logistical barriers such as stopping driving 7. Strategies to address these psychological and practical challenges in maintaining social participation are needed.

Social participation in older adults with healthy cognition
Social isolation is one of the top modifiable late-life risk factors for developing dementia 8. Research in cognitively healthy older adults has shown that feeling socially connected to a variety of different social groups is important for maintaining cognitive function 9,10. Another study found that in older adults with healthy cognition, memory over 15 years is positively associated with combined frequent face-to-face and online contact compared to using a single social contact mode 11. However,research using focus groups of carers/supporters has found that social connection was reduced in carers/supporters due to lost companionship (“He used talk about politics, about anything we could talk about. I’ve lost my best friend”) and other people’s stigma restricting opportunities for social contact 12.

Carers/supporters indicated an increased need for social support to deal with changes in social roles (e.g., transition from spouse to carer role; e.g., “I don’t have anybody to talk to about it”12). Therefore, social interventions for carers/supporters are also needed to maintain or increase meaningful face-to-face and online social activities, to reduce their risk of dementia.

Given the importance of social participation for reducing the progression of, or development of, cognitive impairment and loneliness 2,13, there is a clear need for more research to understand how to increase and maintain frequent and high-quality social interactions in people with MCI/dementia and their carers/supporters. The Macquarie University social participation project, conducted by Dr Diana Matovic, aims to adapt a psychosocial intervention to increase the frequency of participation in a variety of social
activities for people with MCI/early dementia and their carers/supporters.


  1. Petersen RC, Lopez O, Armstrong MJ, et al. Practice guideline update summary: Mild cognitive impairment: Report of the Guideline Development, Dissemination, and Implementation Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology. Jan 16 2018;90(3):126-135.doi:10.1212/wnl.0000000000004826
  2. Hughes TF, Flatt JD, Fu B, Chang CC, Ganguli M. Engagement in social activities and progression from mild to severe cognitive impairment: the MYHAT study. International psychogeriatrics. Apr 2013;25(4):587-95. doi:10.1017/s1041610212002086
  3. Shimada H, Doi T, Lee S, Makizako H. Reversible predictors of reversion from mild cognitive impairment to normal cognition: a 4-year longitudinal study. Alzheimers Res Ther. Mar 13 2019;11(1):24.doi:10.1186/s13195-019-0480-5
  4. Samtani S, Stevens A, Brodaty H. Preserving and enhancing social health in neurocognitive disorders. Curr Opin Psychiatry. Mar 1 2021;34(2):157164. doi:10.1097/yco.0000000000000683
  5. Gjernes T. Knitters in a day center: The significance of social participation for people with mild to moderate dementia. Qualitative Health Research. 2017/12/01 2017;27(14):2233-2243. doi:10.1177/1049732317723890
  6. Alzheimer’s Society. Dementia 2013: The hidden voice of loneliness. 2013.
  7. Mezuk B, Rebok GW. Social integration and social support among older adults following driving cessation. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B. 2008;63(5):S298-S303.doi:10.1093/geronb/63.5.S298
  8. Livingston G, Huntley J, Sommerlad A, et al. Dementia prevention, intervention, and care:2020 report of the Lancet Commission. The Lancet. 2020;396(10248):413-446. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30367-6
  9. Haslam C, Cruwys T, Haslam SA. “The we’s have it”: evidence for the distinctive benefits of group engagement in enhancing cognitive health in aging. Soc Sci Med. Nov 2014;120:57-66.
  10. Haslam C, Cruwys T, Milne M, Kan CH, Haslam SA. Group ties protect cognitive health by promoting social identification and social support. J Aging Health. Mar 2016;28(2):244-66.doi:10.1177/0898264315589578
  11. Rafnsson SB, Maharani A, Tampubolon G. Social contact mode and 15-Year episodic memory trajectories in older adults with and without hearing loss: Findings from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. Jan 12 2022;77(1):10-17.
  12. Carlozzi NE, Sherman CW, Angers K, Belanger MP, Austin AM, Ryan KA. Caring for an individual with mild cognitive impairment: a qualitative perspective of health-related quality of life from caregivers. Aging Ment Health. Sep 2018;22(9):1190-1198.doi:10.1080/13607863.2017.1341468
  13. Victor CR, Rippon I, Nelis SM, et al. Prevalence and determinants of loneliness in people living with dementia: Findings from the IDEAL programme. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. Aug
    2020;35(8):851-858. doi:10.1002/gps.5305

You can help us by participating in research

to help us to understand what factors make it difficult to maintain social activities once someone has been diagnosed with MCI/early dementia or has started caring for/supporting someone with MCI/early dementia. We also want to know what factors help people to maintain social activities.

Please contact Dr Diana Matovic on
(02) 9850 8655 or if you are 60 years or older and have MCI/early dementia or you are a current or past carer for/supporter of someone with MCI/dementia and you are interested in participating in this research.

Dr Diana Matovic is a postdoctoral researcher and a member of the Macquarie University Lifespan Health and Wellbeing Research Centre. Dr Matovic manages the Wellbeing Check Tool designed to screen for risk factors for dementia and poor wellbeing (e.g., depression,social isolation) in older adults in primary care settings and provide evidence-based recommendations for risk reduction. Dr Matovic also works on related projects such as looking at social participation, mental health, and wellbeing in older adults with healthy cognition and older adults with mild cognitive impairment/early dementia and their older adult carers/supporters, and the mechanisms underlying positive mood in older adults.

Dementia Outlook – one day at a time Conference

at Mooloolaba TAFE, Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia.

Thursday, 21st September, 2023.

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