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Socializing With Peers Is Good Medicine For The Aging Brain, Experts Say

TAYLORSVILLE, Utah – At first glance, it is a meeting of the Pet-lovers Club, 20 seniors gathered to discuss the ups and downs of pet ownership.

“Appreciate all of you bringing photos of your fur babies,” said Penny Cherrix, who conducted the meeting. She lives at Summit Vista, a retirement community in Taylorsville.

But look closer; it is much more.

“It’s been wonderful to talk to people. We were in our apartment just pretty isolated for quite a while,” said Sharon White, who also lives at Summit Vista. She had her 26-year-old cockatoo perched on her hand.

These seniors are feeding their souls and building their brains.

“By interacting with other people, we’re actually working a lot of different cognitive muscles or thinking muscles within the brain,” said Dr. Kevin Duff, a clinical neuropsychologist with University of Utah Health.

Socializing helps cognition and memory.

“When we interact with a friend, and we learn new information about them or have to recall information that we knew about them from an earlier conversation, that activates memory,” Duff said.

Flexing problem-solving muscles with friends is especially important to those in the early stages of dementia and all seniors, he said.

“Having those opportunities, I think are really important in them maintaining and maybe even gaining back some of the things that may have been lost during COVID,” Duff said.

Socializing also reduces anxiety and depression.

You don’t have to tell Ron Padawer, also a resident at Summit Vista.

“Excellent! This is really super positive,” he said.

Karen Gauthier, who also lives there, said, “Oh my gosh, it’s so nice. Just to not have the masks and see everybody and have dinner with them.”

Doctors said the benefits of social interaction among vaccinated seniors far outweigh the risk.

“Ninety-five percent of us have had both of our vaccinations, so everybody feels fairly safe,” Cherrix said.

And while old friends like Cherrix’s dogs are gold, make room for a silver lining.

“I’m just finding new friends, and that’s really been wonderful,” she said.

Experts said family members and friends can help seniors by encouraging them to engage with their community.

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