To the extent that isolation causes chronic stress, that might take a toll on the cardiovascular system and the aging brain, researchers said. Photo by Murray Rudd/Pixabay

Older adults who regularly spend time with family and friends may have bigger brains to show for it, a new study suggests.

Healthy brain aging is a complex matter, and researchers are still trying to understand which factors keep the mind sharp and which ones feed declines in memory and thinking.

But a number of studies have suggested that social life matters. Social stimulation is thought to help support mental acuity; on the other hand, social isolation in the golden years has been linked to an increased risk of dementia.

Exactly why, though, is unclear.

So for the new study, researchers led by Dr. Toshiharu Ninomiya, of Kyushu University in Japan, asked a different question: Is social isolation connected to older adults’ brain volume?

The brain naturally “shrinks” to a degree as people age, reflecting the loss of nerve cells and their connections. But that tissue loss is accelerated during the dementia process.

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