Social Engagement and Cognitive Health in a Population-Based Study of Older Men and Women in Rural South Africa

Guy Harling , University College London
Lindsay Kobayashi, Harvard University
Meagan Farrell, Harvard University
Ryan Wagner, MRC/Wits Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Research Unit
Lisa Berkman, Harvard University

We investigated how patterns of social engagement and cognitive health in a population-based study of over 5000 individuals aged = 40 years in rural South Africa fit with three existing theories of how social engagement and cognitive function are interconnected in older age. We found that respondents with lower cognitive function had smaller, denser social networks that were more local and more kin-based than their peers. Lower cognitive function was associated with receipt of less social support in general, but this difference was stronger for emotional and informational than for financial and physical support. These patterns suggest that cognitively impaired older adults in this setting rely on their core social networks for support, and that theories developed in higher-income and higher-education settings may also apply elsewhere in the world.

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 Presented in Session 6. Health & Mortality & Aging