Social participation predicts cognitive functioning in aging adults over time: comparisons with physical health, depression, and physical activity

Aging Ment Health. 2017 Feb;21(2):133-146. doi: 10.1080/13607863.2015.1081152. Epub 2015 Sep 1.


Objectives: Several risk and protective factors are associated with changes in cognitive functioning in aging adults - including physical health, depression, physical activity, and social activities - though the findings for participation in social activities are mixed. This study investigated the longitudinal association between social participation and two domains of cognitive functioning, memory and executive function. A primary goal of our analyses was to determine whether social participation predicted cognitive functioning over-and-above physical health, depression, and physical activity in a sample with adequate power to detect unique effects.

Method: The sample included aging adults (N = 19,832) who participated in a large, multi-national study and provided data across six years; split into two random subsamples. Unique associations between the predictors of interest and cognitive functioning over time and within occasion were assessed in a latent curve growth model.

Results: Social participation predicted both domains of cognitive functioning at each occasion, and the relative magnitude of this effect was comparable to physical health, depression, and physical activity level. In addition, social participation at the first time point predicted change in cognitive functioning over time. The substantive results in the initial sample were replicated in the second independent subsample.

Conclusion: Overall, the magnitude of the association of social participation is comparable to other well-established predictors of cognitive functioning, providing evidence that social participation plays an important role in cognitive functioning and successful aging.

Keywords: cognition; depression; physical activity; physical health; social participation.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Depression / physiopathology*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Geriatric Assessment / methods*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Self Report
  • Social Participation*