"The we's have it": evidence for the distinctive benefits of group engagement in enhancing cognitive health in aging

Soc Sci Med. 2014 Nov;120:57-66. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.08.037. Epub 2014 Aug 28.


Aligned with research in the social capital and general health literature, a large body of evidence shows that older people who are more socially active have better cognitive integrity and are less vulnerable to cognitive decline. The present research addresses the question of whether the type of social engagement (group-based vs. individual) has differential effects on these cognitive health outcomes. Drawing on population data (N=3413) from three waves (i.e., Waves 3, 4 and 5) of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, we investigated the independent contribution of group and individual engagement in predicting cognitive functioning four years later. Hierarchical linear regression was used entering age, gender, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and physical health as covariates. The final model, controlling for initial cognitive function and social engagement (both group and individual) showed that only group engagement made a significant, sustained, and unique contribution to subsequent cognitive function. Furthermore, the effects of group engagement were stronger with increasing age. These findings extend previous work on the social determinants of health by pinpointing the types of relationships that are particularly beneficial in protecting cognitive health. The fact that group engagement optimized health outcomes, and that this was especially the case with increasing age, has important implications for directing community resources to keep older adults mentally active and independent for longer.

Keywords: Cognitive function; Group engagement; Social capital; Social identity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Cognition Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Middle Aged
  • Regression Analysis
  • Social Environment*
  • Social Identification
  • Surveys and Questionnaires