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9 Ways to Make Friends and Boost Brain Health

Staying socially engaged helps ward off memory loss and dementia

Fend Off Dementia — With Friends

En español l When you're young, making friends seems effortless. But the older you get, the more challenging it can become. And that can spell trouble, because a mountain of studies tells us that staying socially engaged stimulates the brain in areas critical to learning and memory. So how do you refresh your social network? Try these nine ideas.

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Go Deep

You don't have to be a social butterfly to reap the benefits of social engagement. "A few close relationships is just fine," says Laura L. Carstensen, director of the Stanford Center on Longevity. "It's not the number, but rather the richness and depth of relationships that counts."

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Risk Reaching Out

Friendships don’t just happen; you have to work at finding and strengthening them. So be brave and ask the person next to you in line at the grocery store if she’s enjoying the magazine she’s leafing through. Or invite people over for a potluck dinner and ask each guest to bring a friend.

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Just Say Yes

If someone invites you for tea, lunch or the ballet, go — even if you don't know an arabesque from an assemblé. The more you put yourself out there, the more people you'll meet. It is not a lifetime commitment, just a fun outing.

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Get on the Road

Dozens of tour companies now cater to older adults including Elder Treks and Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel). Also, many colleges have active alumni associations that sponsor trips. When was the last time you checked in with yours?

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Volunteer

Any time you reach out to others you boost brain health, too. Programs such as Experience Corps, sponsored in part by AARP, train seniors to tutor inner city kids in 20 cities across the country. (Find them at experiencecorps.org; 202-434-6400.) Encore.org offers a road map to paid as well as volunteer opportunities such as teaching business skills to low-income people or planting community gardens. (Find them at encore.org; 415-430-0141.)

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Think Local

Community activities give you a chance to meet a diverse group of people who live nearby. Check newspaper listings and drop by that gallery opening or book reading. If you attend and enjoy chatting with someone, jot down his email or phone number so you can stay in touch.

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Pursue Your Passion

When you do something that sparks your interest — cooking classes, a jewelry-making workshop — chances are you’ll meet someone who shares a similar curiosity. See him or her every week and a new friendship is born.

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Join a Social Network

Social media sites, like Facebook, offer the chance to reconnect with old friends and reinforce ties to new ones. Terrified of technology? Check out SeniorNet, which offers workshops on computer use and Internet safety. Also meetup.com links like-minded people on just about every interest you may have.

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Consider a Move

Many of us want to grow old in the same place we've always lived. But for some, a move to another community — perhaps one with shops and restaurants, within easy walking distance or a college town — is an invigorating option.

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VIDEO EXTRA

BRAIN HEALTH: The latest research shows our brains don’t necessarily deteriorate as we age and brain atrophy is reversible. There are many ways to keep our brains fit, just as we exercise other parts of our body to keep them healthy.

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