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Social Engagement and Active Lifestyles Can Slow Down Cognitive Decline

A new study indicated that seniors who engage in meaningful social activities circumvent brain atrophy.

“Cognitive aging” is the term used by scientists to refer to the brain’s natural process of deteriorating after crossing a certain age. But cognitive aging isn’t a disease—it affects, or will affect, everyone in his or her lifetime. There are steps, however, that can be taken to slow down the brain’s decline.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have found that seniors who engage in meaningful social activities circumvent brain atrophy.


The study followed participants in the Baltimore Experience Corps, a program that places retired persons into public schools to work with elementary school students.

“Someone once said to me that being in this program removed the cobwebs from her brain and this study shows that is exactly what is happening,” said study leader Michelle Carlson, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Mental Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in a statement.

Image via AARP Experience Corps YouTube screencapture

The study followed 58 senior men and women who participated in the program, and compared them to 53 seniors who did not. MRI scans revealed that in participants, women’s memory center volumes stayed the same while men’s volumes actually increased. Those who did not participate experienced the expected rate of shrinkage. Typically, annual rates of atrophy in adults over age 65 range from .8 percent to 2 percent. The men in the study, however, showed a .7 percent to 1.6 percent increase in the opposite direction.

While the study’s results were significant, researchers can’t pinpoint exactly what aspect of civil service provides benefits to the brain. In a day’s work at Experience Corp, a senior can expect to not only engage with other seniors and youth, they also have to wake up in time to get themselves to school, commute to the program, and walk the halls of the schools to their classrooms. It could be a combination of both physical and mental activity that keeps the brain from deteriorating at the typical rate.

On April 14, the Institute of Medicine published an action guide for staving off cognitive aging. The three steps that they believe help the most are:

  1. 1. Being physically active
  2. 2. Reducing cardiovascular risks (including hypertension, diabetes, and smoking)
  3. 3. Managing medication and health conditions that could affect cognition.

IOM also suggests being socially and intellectually active, getting adequate sleep, and avoiding delirium associated with hospitalization and certain medications.

Keeping the mind sharp is an important concern for seniors, whose everyday lives can be affected by even subtle slowdowns in cognition. While not every instance is preventable, the risk of illnesses such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, and delirium can be reduced by living an active and connected lifestyle.

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Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

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Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

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In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

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Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?

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