Close social relationships may slow cognitive decline
An observational study on a cohort of people termed ‘SuperAgers’ – those aged over 80 years with a cognitive ability matching middle-aged adults – determined that they reported having more satisfying, higher quality social relationships than a matched cohort of their cognitively-average peers. The team used the Ryff 42-item Psychological Well being Questionnaire (PWB-42); there were no significant differences in age, gender, ethnic group, or education level. SuperAgers demonstrated a significantly (p=0.005) greater level on the positive relations with others domain of the questionnaire, while there were no other significant between-group differences.
"You don't have to be the life of the party, but this study supports the theory that maintaining strong social networks seems to be linked to slower cognitive decline," said senior author Emily Rogalski, associate professor at Northwestern's CNADC (Chicago).
The Ryff Psychological Well-Being Scale, which is a widely used measure of psychological well-being, examines six aspects of psychological well-being: autonomy, positive relations with others, environmental mastery, personal growth, purpose in life and self-acceptance. The median overall score of 40 in the SuperAgers cohort was statistically superior versus the median score of 36 in the control group.
"This finding is particularly exciting as a step toward understanding what factors underlie the preservation of cognitive ability in advanced age, particularly those that may be modifiable," said first author Amanda Cook.
Other studies have reported a social network decline in Alzheimer's disease and Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI); previous literature has shown psychological well-being in older age is associated with reduced risk of developing Alzheimer's.
The research was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health, including R01 AG045571 and P30 AG13854 from the National Institute on Aging, T32 NS047987 from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke as well as the Davee Foundation and the Foley Family Foundation.