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Social Network Type and Subsequent Cognitive Health among Older Europeans

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

What type of social environment is beneficial for #cognitive aging? Our new paper shows improved cognitive health for #olderAdults with diverse social networks - composed of family, friends and volunteering activities.

Cohn-Schwartz, E., Levinsky, M., & Litwin, H. (2021). Social network type and subsequent cognitive health among older Europeans. International Psychogeriatrics, 33(5), 495-504.

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Objectives: One’s personal social network constitutes a contextual framing factor for late-life cognitive function. This study examined the association between network type at baseline and changes in three cognitive measures: immediate recall, delayed recall, and fluency, two years hence, among Europeans aged 50 and older. Participants: Data were taken from Waves four and five of the Survey of Health, Ageing, and Retirement in Europe of adults aged 50 and above (N = 50,071). Measurements: The latent class analysis was applied to a set of criterion variables. The procedure yielded five distinct network types: multi-tie (6%), family-rich (23%), close-family (49%), family-poor (12%), and friend-enhanced (10%). The network types were then regressed on the cognition measures at follow-up, controlling for the respective baseline cognition scores, as well as for age, gender, education, self-rated health, mobility difficulty, and country.

Results: Respondents in family-poor network types had poorer cognition scores at follow-up, compared to those in the modal close-family network, while those in multi-tie networks had consistently better scores. The family-rich network and the friend-enhanced network also had a somewhat better cognitive function. Conclusions: Having varied sources of network ties, e.g. friendship ties and/or several types of family relationships, is beneficial to the cognitive health of older adults over time. Networks based mainly on ties with relatives other than spouse and children, on the other hand, have poorer cognitive outcomes. Older people in this latter group face an increased risk for cognitive decline and should receive assistance in enhancing their interpersonal environments.

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