Positive Psychosocial Factors and Cognitive Decline in Ethnically Diverse Older Adults

J Int Neuropsychol Soc. 2021 Jan;27(1):69-78. doi: 10.1017/S1355617720000648. Epub 2020 Aug 25.


Objectives: Previous cross-sectional studies have documented associations between positive psychosocial factors, such as self-efficacy and emotional support, and late-life cognition. Further, the magnitudes of concurrent associations may differ across racial and ethnic groups that differ in Alzheimer's disease risk. The goals of this longitudinal study were to characterize prospective associations between positive psychosocial factors and cognitive decline and explicitly test for differential impact across race and ethnicity.

Methods: 578 older adults (42% non-Hispanic Black, 31% non-Hispanic White, and 28% Hispanic) in the Washington Heights-Inwood Columbia Aging Project completed cognitive and psychosocial measures from the NIH Toolbox and standard neuropsychological tests over 2.4 years. Latent difference scores were used to model associations between positive psychosocial factors and cognitive decline controlling for baseline cognition, sociodemographics, depressive symptoms, physical health, and other positive psychosocial factors. Multiple-group modeling was used to test interactions between the positive psychosocial factors and race/ethnicity.

Results: Higher NIH Toolbox Friendship scores predicted less episodic memory decline. One standard deviation increase in friendship corresponded to 6 fewer years of memory aging. This association did not significantly differ across racial/ethnic groups.

Conclusions: This longitudinal study provides support for the potential importance of friendships for subsequent episodic memory trajectories among older adults from three ethnic groups. Further study into culturally informed interventions is needed to investigate whether and how friend networks may be targeted to promote cognitive health in late life.

Keywords: African American; Cognitive aging; Friends; Hispanic; Social networks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Black or African American
  • Cognitive Dysfunction*
  • Hispanic or Latino
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • White People*