Study on bees uncovers potential secret to healthy aging

A team of scientists from Arizona State University believe they have found a key to keeping the brain young, and it may mean seniors should take a cue from honey bees. The researchers found older bees who take on responsibilities of younger ones seemed to reverse brain aging, which suggests social intervention could be an effective treatment for dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

The study built on previous research that showed bees that stay in the nest to take care of larval bees stayed mentally competent longer. This time, researchers wanted to see whether bees who were foragers could gain from returning to their caregiver role. After 10 days, bees who stayed in the nest exhibited an increased ability to learn new things. The results could change the way people view healthy aging and Alzheimer's prevention.

"Maybe social interventions - changing how you deal with your surroundings - is something we can do today to help our brains stay younger," lead researcher Gro Amdam said. "Since the proteins being researched in people are the same proteins bees have, these proteins may be able to spontaneously respond to specific social experiences."

The results seem to coincide with other research done on the health benefits offered to seniors by maintaining a high level of social interaction. A 2011 study found seniors who stay socially active enjoy fewer physical limitations and lower mortality rates, according to The Daily Texan.

The research was led by Patricia Thomas and looked at data from the Americans' Changing Lives survey, which was completed in 2002. Thomas believes the benefits are the result of providing seniors with a purpose, as well as a better way to cope with certain stresses.

"You want to behave in ways that promote your health so you’re around to socialize with them [your family and friends] and be in their lives," she told the newspaper.

Luckily for seniors, today's retirement communities offer ample opportunity for residents to say socially engaged. Among the most popular options for retirees is continuing their education in school. Many colleges offer programs catering to older adults, including Boston University's Evergreen program, which lets adults 58 and over audit undergraduate and graduate classes, according to the Boston Globe.