Social engagement is associated with better cognition at age 50

02 December 2016

BMC Psychology: Is mid-life social participation associated with cognitive function at age 50? Results from the British National Child Development Study (NCDS)

Researchers from the University of Southampton have found that social engagement through community activities is associated with better cognitive function, as measured by tests of memory and thinking, at age 50. The study is published today in BMC Psychology.

The study used data from the British National Child Development Study, which followed a group of 9,119 people who were all born in the same week in 1958. To date, this group has completed a number of assessments throughout their lives, with 8,129 completing tests of cognitive function at age 11, 33, 42 and 50. These results were used in the study to see how cognition at each age associated with other lifelong measures.

The researchers found that higher levels of education, weekly physical activity at age 42, being female, and having better cognitive ability aged 11 were all associated with better cognitive scores at age 50. They also revealed that people who participated in at least one voluntary and community-based group at age 33 and 50 had better cognitive function aged 50 than those that did not. Self-reported poorer mental wellbeing at age 42, a manual job or a father in a manual socioeconomic group at age 11 were all factors associated with worse cognitive function at age 50.

Dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“Studying people over extended periods of time can provide valuable insight into how lifestyle factors are associated with people’s health. It’s interesting to see social engagement through involvement in community and voluntary groups being linked with better memory and thinking skills at age 50, but the reason behind the observation is not clear. The people in this study were all born in the same week in 1958, and so it is still too early to tell whether the differences seen now in their memory and thinking would indicate an altered dementia risk later in life.

It will be important to see the results of future studies of this group of volunteers, to shed new light on how their life experiences are shaping their risk of conditions such as dementia. Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Insight 46 study is currently following 500 members of a slightly older UK birth cohort of people born in 1946, to reveal more insight into the risk factors and early indicators for the condition.”