Power of Friends: Strong Social Networks Linked to Slower Cognitive Decline

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Healthy Friendships May Boost Memory

Cognitive decline is a common problem among old people, affecting memory and thinking. But a new study is giving light on how age-associated cognitive decline can be reversed. Thanks to the power of strong social networks or what we simply call our “bffs” (best friends for life)!

According to a study spearheaded by researchers from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, maintaining warm and trusting friendships can boost memory in old age.

In the study that involved the SuperAgers – who are 80 years of age and older who have cognitive ability at least as good as people in their 50s or 60s – reported having more satisfying, high-quality relationships compared to their cognitively average, same-age peers, the study reports.

This study, published Oct. 23 in the journal PLOS ONE, was the first to examine the social side of SuperAgers.

The Study Focuses on The Social Aspect of SuperAgers

The same group of researchers conducted a previous study on biological differences in SuperAgers. The recent one focused on the social side of this group of old people.

The SuperAgers participated in the study by answering a 42-item questionnaire called the Ryff Psychological Well-Being Scale, a widely used measure of psychological well-being. The scale examines six aspects of psychological well-being: autonomy, positive relations with others, environmental mastery, personal growth, purpose in life and self-acceptance.

The result was quite astonishing, SuperAgers scored a median overall score of 40 in positive relations with others while the control group scored 36 – a significant difference.

First author Amanda Cook, a clinical neuropsychology doctoral student in the laboratory of Rogalski and Sandra Weintraub, said, “This finding is particularly exciting as a step toward understanding what factors underlie the preservation of cognitive ability in advanced age, particularly those that may be modifiable.”

In addition, the researchers asserted that the key finding of the research supports the theory that maintaining strong social networks seems to be linked to slower cognitive decline.

Prevalence in Age-Related Cognitive Decline

A study claimed that not all old people will suffer cognitive impairment. Around 30-40% of adults over 65 have the type of cognitive loss that is the common and normal consequence of age, such as (slight) decline on memory tests. However, around 10% of adults over 65 develop mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which does impact everyday living, and is a precursor of Alzheimer’s. In the United States, a large sample found MCI in 9% of those aged 70 to 79 and nearly 18% of those 80 to 89.

Mina Fabulous follows the news, especially what is going on in the US State Department. Mina turns State Department waffle into plain English. Mina Fabulous is the pen name of Carmen Avalino, the NewsBlaze production editor. When she isn’t preparing stories for NewsBlaze writers, she writes stories, but to separate her editing and writing identities, she uses the name given by her family and friends.