Rafnsson, S.B., Maharani, A. & Tampubolon, G. | 2021| Social Contact Mode and 15-Year Episodic Memory Trajectories in Older Adults With and Without Hearing Loss: Findings From the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing | The Journals of Gerontology: Series B| gbab029| https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gbab029
The findings of a longitudinal study add new evidence to the body of research on social networks and cognition in later life, they indicate that social interactions through online communication such as Zoom or Skype may help older adults, sustain, and benefit cognitively from, personal relationships. This was particularly apparent for older people living with hearing loss. The researchers used data from ELSA sought to determine whether frequent offline social interactions, as compared to infrequent contact, were independently and longitudinally associated with episodic memory.
Frequent social contact benefits cognition in later life although evidence is lacking on the potential relevance of the modes chosen by older adults, including those living with hearing loss, for interacting with others in their social network.
11 418 participants in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing provided baseline information on hearing status and social contact mode and frequency of use. Multilevel growth curve models compared episodic memory (immediate and delayed recall) at baseline and longitudinally in participants who interacted frequently (offline only or offline and online combined), compared to infrequently, with others in their social network.
Frequent offline (B equal to 0.23; SE equal to 0.09) and combined offline and online (B equal to 0.71; SE equal to 0.09) social interactions predicted better episodic memory after adjustment for multiple confounders. We observed positive, longitudinal associations between combined offline and online interactions and episodic memory in participants without hearing loss (B equal to 0.50, SE equal to 0.11) but not with strictly offline interactions (B equal to 0.01, SE equal to 0.11). In those with hearing loss, episodic memory was positively related to both modes of engagement (offline only: B equal to 0.79, SE equal to 0.20; combined online and offline: B equal to 1.27, SE equal to 0.20). Sensitivity analyses confirmed the robustness of these findings.
Supplementing conventional social interactions with online communication modes may help older adults, especially those living with hearing loss, sustain, and benefit cognitively from, personal relationships.
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