Social resources and cognitive decline in a population of older African Americans and whites

Neurology. 2004 Dec 28;63(12):2322-6. doi: 10.1212/01.wnl.0000147473.04043.b3.


Objective: To examine the relation of social resources and cognitive decline in older adults.

Methods: Data are from the Chicago Health and Aging Project, an epidemiologic study of risk factors for Alzheimer disease (AD) and other common conditions in a geographically defined population of older persons. The sample consisted of 6,102 non-Hispanic African Americans (61.2%) and whites, aged > or = 65, who underwent up to three interviews during an average of 5.3 years of follow-up. Each interview included administration of four cognitive function tests from which a composite measure of cognition was formed. Social networks were based on the number of children, relatives, and friends seen at least once a month. Social engagement was measured with four items related to social and productive activity.

Results: Higher number of social networks and level of social engagement were positively correlated with initial level of cognitive function (networks estimate = 0.003, engagement estimate = 0.060, both p < 0.001). Both resources were also associated with a reduced rate of cognitive decline. A high (90th percentile) number of networks reduced the rate of decline by 39% compared to a low level (10th percentile), and high social engagement reduced decline by 91%. These relations remained after controlling for socioeconomic status, cognitive activity, physical activity, depressive symptoms, and chronic medical conditions.

Conclusions: Greater social resources, as defined by social networks and social engagement, are associated with reduced cognitive decline in old age.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • African Americans / psychology*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Chicago / epidemiology
  • Cognition Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / ethnology
  • Cognition*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Disease Progression
  • Educational Status
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / psychology*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Income
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Psychological Tests
  • Social Behavior*