Being part of a group, such as a political party, an environmental group, neighborhood watch, a voluntary service group or other community-based group, is associated with better cognitive function at age 50, according to a new study.
“While the associations between adult social engagement and cognitive function at age 50 we found were moderate, they persisted after we adjusted for covariates, such as health, socioeconomic status and gender,” said University of Southampton Professor Ann Bowling.
“The implication is that if people continue to engage socially throughout life, maintaining related behaviors that require cognitive skills such as memory, attention, and control, there may be some protection from cognitive decline. Public health policy interventions aimed at promoting cognitive health could include encouraging civic engagement and providing people with opportunities for this.”
For the study, published in the journal BMC Psychology, researchers used data from the British National Child Development Study (NCDS), a general population sample in England, Scotland and Wales. Baseline data on 9,119 men and women was collected at birth in 1958 and study participants were followed up at several points later in life.
What they discovered is that a person’s cognitive ability at age 11, their participation in civic activities at ages 33 and 50, frequent physical activity, higher educational qualification, and being female were all associated with better cognitive function at age 50.
Having low socioeconomic status as a child and reporting worse mental well-being in adulthood were both associated with worse cognitive function at age 50, according to the findings.
According to the study’s findings, at age 33, 83 percent of all respondents reported they did not participate in any civic organization. This number dropped to 64 percent at age 50. Participating in one civic organization was reported by 14 percent of respondents at age 33 and by 25 percent at age 50.
Out of the overall sample, 8,129 participants completed cognitive tests at ages 11 (reading, writing, math, and general ability tests) and 50 (memory and visual attention, speed, and concentration tests). The researchers found that almost a third of the sample population’s cognitive ability deteriorated between ages 11 and 50, while remaining unchanged in less than half of participants (44 percent). A quarter of participants showed improved cognitive ability at age 50.
Those who reported they participated in civic groups at age 33 and 50 scored higher in cognitive tests, according to the study’s findings.
The researchers also found that participation in each additional civic group was found to further increase scores on cognitive tests.