Harvard Mental Health Letter

Commentary: Social networks and memory function

Commentary

Social networks and memory function

A pair of articles published in the American Journal of Public Health in July 2008 suggest that social connections can reduce the chances of developing dementia.

Prior research has shown that people who have a small or nonexistent social circle or who are generally less engaged with other people are at greater risk of developing memory loss. One of the new studies put this association to the test by drawing data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a biannual survey of older adults that began in 1992 and is funded by the National Institute on Aging. Subjects in the HRS are a representative sample of U.S. residents over age 50.

Investigators from the Harvard School of Public Health used information gathered from more than 16,000 HRS subjects between 1998 and 2004. Because the study spans several years, the researchers could draw conclusions about the crucial issue of causation. They could ask, does social integration protect against memory loss? Or is the causation reversed — do people who suffer cognitive decline tend to socialize less than average?

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