The Importance of Relationships For Older Adults

For many people, personal relationships become increasingly important with age. Aside from making life more enjoyable, a strong social circle might help sustain the memories of older adults and seniors.

Keeping Score

A 2017 study, which appeared in the journal PLoS ONE, examined the effects of friendships on cognitive health. This report focused heavily on a group of 31 “SuperAgers,” or seniors aged 80+ with the memory capabilities of adults 15 to 30 years younger. The authors contrasted their slate of SuperAgers against a second group of nineteen seniors over the age of 80, all of whom exhibited normal cognitive function for their age bracket.

Having assembled two distinct groupings of subjects, the research team then set about gauging the quality of each senior’s social bonds. The team found that those in the SuperAgers category scored an average of 40 points on a scale designed to measure the quality of personal relationships. In comparison, the average of those in the “normal cognitive” group was four points lower, a gap deemed significant by the research team.

Which Comes First?

The findings of the report raise an interesting question – do strong social relationships sharpen the mind, or do people with strong memories simply fare better when it comes to preserving friendships? As of now, the authors aren’t sure. Karen Fingerman, a professor of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, offered her own opinion on the subject. “We can’t really say which causes which. But there have been other studies that show that engaging with a wide variety of social partners, friends and families is better for cognition over time.” Fingerman further noted that “humans are innately social creatures, and our brains are wired for social stimulation. It is likely that engaging with friends and family may involve conversations that enhance well-being and cognitive functioning.”

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