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This Popular Phone App May Prevent Dementia, Study Says

You might want to use it often to protect your brain.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

During a year of claustrophobic pandemic, many of us discovered new hobbies, skills, and habits. One of them is Zoom. Who knew that one can work, talk to family, and even party from our own bedroom using video calls—and that your new "You're On Mute" T-shirt will make people laugh on the street. Apart from connecting or annoying us, there is also a surprising effect that Zoom could have—chatting with friends and loved ones over Zoom, or other video-messaging apps, may help prevent dementia, a new study has found. Read on to discover how a video app can do that—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Had COVID And Should Tell Your Doctor

Using Both Online and Offline Communication Improves Your Memory

Dementia is an umbrella term for many disorders that can cause changes to memory, thinking, and personality that interfere with a person's ability to function. Alzheimer's disease is the most common, with at least 5 million Americans are affected.

The new study, conducted by the University of West London's Geller Institute of Aging and Memory, analyzed the communication methods of 11,418 men and women between the age of 50 and 90. The study subjects were asked how they interacted with friends and family online and offline. 

Participants then had a list of 10 words read out to them, which they had to recall immediately and again at the end of the test.

The researchers found that people who only communicated physically, face-to-face, showed more signs of cognitive decline than those who used technology to communicate with people close to them. People who utilized both online and offline modes of communication had better memory overall.

"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, the study's lead author.

"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," he said.

RELATED: 9 Everyday Habits That Might Lead to Dementia, Say Experts

Why Does This Happen?

Several previous studies have found a strong link between social isolation and dementia. "Social isolation and loneliness have negative health impacts on par with obesity, physical inactivity, and smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and are associated with about a 50% increased risk of dementia," says Scott Kaiser, MD, a board-certified geriatrician at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California, and director of geriatric cognitive health for the Pacific Neuroscience Institute.

Experts aren't entirely sure why, but they theorize that loneliness causes stress, which generates an inflammatory response in the body that can involve the brain, leading to dementia. 

This is only the latest study that shows that remaining social can be good for your brain. One study that followed several hundred people over time found that those who scored high on an assessment of purpose in life were 2.4 times more likely to remain free of Alzheimer's Disease than people with low scores.

Staying social has been a challenge for everyone, particularly older people, during the COVID-19 pandemic. This study suggests that even virtual socializing can help maintain brain health.

RELATED: Signs You're Getting One of the "Most Deadly" Cancers.

When to See a Doctor

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of dementia, "it's important to pursue a thorough evaluation to identify such concerns and address them," says Kaiser. "There are many medical conditions and other factors which can cause reversible memory loss." These can include insomnia, stress, anxiety, and depression. The only way to know for sure is to get any concern checked out. And to get through life at your healthiest, don't miss: This Supplement Can Raise Your Cancer Risk, Experts Say.