Social support and cognition in a community-based cohort: the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study

Age Ageing. 2016 Jul;45(4):475-80. doi: 10.1093/ageing/afw060. Epub 2016 Apr 21.


Objective: social support has demonstrated cross-sectional associations with greater cognitive function and a protective effect against cognitive decline in older adults, but exploration of its temporal role in cognitive ageing from mid-life to older adulthood has been limited. We aimed to quantify the associations of social support, assessed at mid-life, with cognitive function in mid-life and with cognitive decline into late life among African Americans and Caucasians.

Methods: data from the community-based, prospective Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) cohort of 15,792 biracial participants were examined for baseline and longitudinal associations of mid-life social support with global cognition at mid-life and with 20-year change in global cognition, respectively, stratified by race. Interactions with sociodemographic and cardiometabolic covariates were additionally explored within each race group. Social support was ascertained using two metrics: interpersonal support and social network.

Results: interpersonal support was directly associated with greater global cognition at baseline in both race groups. Social network was directly associated with greater global cognition at baseline among Caucasians and African American females, but it was not significantly associated with global cognition in African American males. Neither mid-life social support measure was associated with 20-year change in global cognition.

Conclusions: higher levels of social support were moderately associated with greater multi-dimensional cognitive function at mid-life, but mid-life social support was not associated with temporal change in global cognitive function over 20 years into late life. Prospective studies with time-dependent measures of social support and cognition are needed to better understand the role of social engagement in ageing-related cognitive functioning.

Keywords: cognition; cognitive; older people; psychosocial; social; social support; support.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Black or African American / psychology*
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis
  • Cognition Disorders / ethnology
  • Cognition Disorders / prevention & control
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology*
  • Cognition*
  • Cognitive Aging / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prognosis
  • Protective Factors
  • Psychosocial Support Systems
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Support*
  • Time Factors
  • United States
  • White People / psychology*