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Social Relations in Older Age May Help Grandma Maintain Her Memory

Stephanie Bergren
Chinese Health, Aging, and Policy Program
Institute for Health, Health Care Policy, and Aging Research
Rutgers University
[email protected]

Chicago, IL, Dec 25A recent paper on US Chinese older adults reported that social relationship and social network may be a key to cognitively healthy older adults, which is published by Gerontology 22 Dec 2017 online. In the US, age-related cognitive impairment affects 17%-34% of community-dwelling older adults. With growing concern about older adults and their cognitive health as they age, there is a growing interest in how we may be able to improve cognitive performance in later life.

Social network has multiple dimensions, including the quantity, structure and quality of social relationships. Drs. XinQi Dong and MengTing Li found that certain factors like more members in a social network, higher contact frequency, more kinds of relations (e.g. kin, friend, and co-worker), and higher emotional closeness can facilitate cognitive function in Chinese older immigrants. They also found these social network factors may have different impacts on types of memory, such as short- and long-term memory. This paper utilizes data from the Population Study of Chinese Elderly (PINE), which started from 2011 and interviewed over 3000 Chinese older adults living in the greater Chicago area.

Social relationships play a significant role in cognitive function in later life. Building age-friendly communities may enable older adults to actively participate in community activities to build more connections and facilitate cognitive function. With respect to Chinese older immigrants, health-care professionals should be aware of the impact of social network changes on their cognitive function, and take culturally relevant approach to help them rebuild and strengthen their social relationships in the US.

“Research shows social behavior has effects on individuals’ health. Social behaviors are more modifiable compared to genetic factors,” Dr. Dong says. “We may help maintain or improve seniors’ cognitive function through strengthening their social relations.”