Video chatting, with the use of applications like Zoom, has become more popular during the COVID-19 pandemic, with many of us using video meeting applications for work or school or to talk to loved ones we’ve been forced to socially distance from. It’s been a remarkably convenient way to keep in touch with those we haven’t been able to see in person, but recent research shows it may have yet another benefit we didn’t know about.
The new study, hailing from the University of West London’s Geller Institute of Aging and Memory, was an analysis of the communication methods of men and women between 50 and 90 years of age. 11,418 participants were involved in the study and were asked questions about how they interact with family and friends both online and offline.
Participants were read a set of 10 words, which they had to try to remember and repeat at the beginning and end of the study. Researchers used this test to determine participants’ level of cognitive decline.
The scientists discovered that those people who connected with their loved ones physically in person struggled more with cognitive decline than those who used technologies like Zoom to talk to friends and family. People who used both in-person and online connections, however, had better memory skills than either of the other groups.
“This shows for the first time the impact of diverse, frequent, and meaningful interactions on long-term memory, and specifically, how supplementing more traditional methods with online social activity may achieve that among older adults,” says Snorri Rafnsson, lead author of the study. “There are combined factors here, as learning to use and engage with online social technology can offer direct cognitive stimulation to keep memory function active. In addition, communicating through diverse channels can facilitate social support exchanges and interactions, which in turn benefit our brains.”
Of course, social isolation has long been known to be linked to dementia and carries a roughly 50 percent increased risk of the disease, so a connection of any type to the outside world is helpful for staving off dementia. However, this is the first study of its kind to suggest that the type of communication is important and that communicating online via video meetings may be more helpful to a person’s brain health than in-person interactions.
This is great news for people who are socially distancing for whatever reason. Loneliness and stress are to be avoided if you wish to keep dementia at bay, but you don’t have to travel or put your health at risk in order to achieve meaningful and helpful interactions.
That said, there’s no surefire way to prevent dementia. If you or someone you know is experiencing some of the symptoms of this disease, it’s important to be evaluated by a medical professional in order to be able to get whatever treatments and advice may be available to help improve quality of life.