Participating in social activities helps preserve cognitive function: an analysis of a longitudinal, population-based study of the elderly

Int J Epidemiol. 2005 Aug;34(4):864-71. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyi049. Epub 2005 Mar 11.


Background: This study examines how changes in cognition over time are related to participation in social activities and the extent of social networks.

Methods: Data are drawn from a population-based, longitudinal study that began in 1989 among elderly Taiwanese. An over-dispersed Poisson model is used to regress the number of failed cognitive tasks (0-5) in 1996, 1999, and 2000 on prior measures of cognitive impairment, social activities, social networks, health status, and sociodemographic characteristics. The analysis sample comprises 2387 individuals, who contribute a total of 4603 observations across three survey intervals (1993-96, 1996-99, 1999-2000).

Results: After adjusting for prior cognitive impairment, baseline health status, and sociodemographic factors, respondents who participated in one or two social activities failed 13% fewer cognitive tasks (P < 0.01) than those with no social activities; those who engaged in three or more activities failed 33% fewer cognitive tasks (P < 0.001). In contrast, none of the social network measures was related to cognitive impairment.

Conclusions: Despite a social structure where elderly persons often live with their children and social interaction is likely to be more family-centered than in western countries, data from Taiwan suggest that participation in social activities outside the family may have a bigger impact on cognitive function than social contacts with family or non-relatives.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cognition Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Epidemiologic Studies
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Poisson Distribution
  • Social Support*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Taiwan / epidemiology