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Social connections and risk of incident mild cognitive impairment, dementia, and mortality in 13 longitudinal cohort studies of ageing

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 February 2024

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Good social connections are proposed to positively influence the course of cognitive decline by stimulating cognitive reserve and buffering harmful stress-related health effects. Prior meta-analytic research has uncovered links between social connections and the risk of poor health outcomes such as mild cognitive impairment, dementia, and mortality. These studies have primarily used aggregate data from North America and Europe with limited markers of social connections. Further research is required to explore these associations longitudinally across a wider range of social connection markers in a global setting.

Research Objective:

We examined the associations between social connection structure, function, and quality and the risk of our primary outcomes (mild cognitive impairment, dementia, and mortality).


Individual participant-level data were obtained from 13 longitudinal studies of ageing from across the globe. We conducted survival analysis using Cox regression models and combined estimates from each study using two-stage meta-analysis. We examined three social constructs: connection structure (living situation, relationship status, interactions with friends/family, community group engagement), function (social support, having a confidante) and quality (relationship satisfaction, loneliness) in relation to the risks of three primary outcomes (mild cognitive impairment, dementia, and mortality). In our partially adjusted models, we included age, sex, and education and in fully adjusted models used these variables as well as diabetes, hypertension, smoking, cardiovascular risk, and depression.

Preliminary results of the ongoing study:

In our fully adjusted models we observed: a lower risk of mild cognitive impairment was associated with being married/in a relationship (vs. being single), weekly community group engagement (vs. no engagement), weekly family/friend interactions (vs. not interacting), and never feeling lonely (vs. often feeling lonely); a lower risk of dementia was associated with monthly/weekly family/friend interactions and having a confidante (vs. no confidante); a lower risk of mortality was associated with living with others (vs. living alone), yearly/monthly/weekly community group engagement, and having a confidante.


Good social connection structure, function, and quality are associated with reduced risk of incident MCI, dementia, and mortality. Our results provide actionable evidence that social connections are required for healthy ageing.

© International Psychogeriatric Association 2024