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Social support, social strain and declines in verbal memory: sex-specific associations based on 16-year follow-up of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing cohort

Aging Ment Health. 2022 Jun 23:1-9. doi: 10.1080/13607863.2022.2089628. Online ahead of print.


OBJECTIVES: Previous investigations of cognitive aging have mainly focused on structural aspects of social relations (e.g. network size and composition), thereby neglecting the role of qualitative aspects of social relations. The current longitudinal study examined sex-specific differences in verbal memory decline by measures of perceived relationship quality (social support/strain) by relationship type.

METHOD: In the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), 10,109 participants aged 50-89 years were assessed at wave 1 (baseline: 2002-03) and followed to wave 9 (2017-18). Verbal memory was assessed by immediate and delayed word-recall tasks. Social support/strain was measured by relationship type (spouse; children; family; friends). Random effects within-between (REWB) modelling was used to separate between- and within-person effects. We estimated associations between social support/strain and (1) baseline levels of memory (main effects), and (2) rate of decline in memory (interaction with time-since-baseline).

RESULTS: Longitudinal associations were most prominent for men, specific to relationship type, and showed between- rather than within-person effects. Among men, higher spousal strain was associated with faster memory decline (βbetween-effect×time = -0.043; 95% CI [-0.084, -0.002]; p = .039), whilst greater support from children was associated with slower decline (βbetween-effect×time = 0.020; 95% CI [0.002, 0.039]; p = .033). Men with higher strain from friends showed lower baseline memory (βbetween-effect = -0.382; 95% CI [-0.627, -0.137]; p=.002) and faster decline (βbetween-effect×time = -0.047; 95% CI [-0.095, 0.000]; p = .051).

CONCLUSION: Between-person differences in social support/strain were modestly associated with memory decline, especially among men.

PMID:35735097 | DOI:10.1080/13607863.2022.2089628

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