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Late-Life Social Activity and Cognitive Decline in Old Age

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 April 2011

Bryan D. James*
Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center, Chicago, Illinois Department of Internal Medicine, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois
Robert S. Wilson
Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center, Chicago, Illinois Department of Neurological Sciences, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois Department of Behavioral Sciences, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois
Lisa L. Barnes
Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center, Chicago, Illinois Department of Neurological Sciences, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois Department of Behavioral Sciences, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois
David A. Bennett
Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center, Chicago, Illinois Department of Neurological Sciences, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois
Correspondence and reprint requests to: Bryan D. James, Rush Alzheimer’ Disease Center, Room 1038, 600 South Paulina Street, Chicago, IL 60612. E-mail:


We examined the association of social activity with cognitive decline in 1138 persons without dementia at baseline with a mean age of 79.6 (SD = 7.5) who were followed for up to 12 years (mean = 5.2; SD = 2.8). Using mixed models adjusted for age, sex, education, race, social network size, depression, chronic conditions, disability, neuroticism, extraversion, cognitive activity, and physical activity, more social activity was associated with less cognitive decline during average follow-up of 5.2 years (SD = 2.7). A one point increase in social activity score (range = 1–4.2; mean = 2.6; SD = 0.6) was associated with a 47% decrease in the rate of decline in global cognitive function (p < .001). The rate of global cognitive decline was reduced by an average of 70% in persons who were frequently socially active (score = 3.33, 90th percentile) compared to persons who were infrequently socially active (score = 1.83, 10th percentile). This association was similar across five domains of cognitive function. Sensitivity analyses revealed that individuals with the lowest levels of cognition or with mild cognitive impairment at baseline did not drive this relationship. These results confirm that more socially active older adults experience less cognitive decline in old age. (JINS, 2011, 17, 998–1005)

Copyright © The International Neuropsychological Society 2011

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For special anniversary issue of the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, “The impact of Activity on Cognitive Health Across the Life Span”.



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