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Conceptual framework for social health: identification of modifiable and protective and risk factors

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 February 2024

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The recognition of dementia as a multifactorial disorder encourages the exploration of new pathways to understand its origins. Social health might play a role in cognitive decline and dementia, but conceptual clarity is lacking and this hinders investigation of associations and mechanisms. Social health might provide a new perspective on social connectedness. The objective is to develop a conceptual framework for social health to advance conceptual clarity in future studies and to identify potentially modifiable risk and protective factors in the “Social Health And Reserve in the Dementia patient journey (SHARED)” project.


The methods include the process of building the conceptual framework. We used the following steps: underpinning for concept advancement, concept advancement by the development of a conceptual model, and exploration of its potential feasibility.


Underpinning of the concept drew from a synthesis of theoretical, conceptual and epidemiological work, and resulted in the definition of social health as well-being that relies on capacities both of the individual and the social environment. In the conceptual framework the abstract definition has been elaborated into more precisely defined domains at both the individual and the social environmental levels. This allowed to identify domain related social health characteristics or markers in epidemiological data bases and to investigate associations between these markers and cognitive decline and dementia. The associated social health markers represent potentially modifiable risk and protective factors. Examples are “social engagement” in the participation domain at the individual level, and “frequency of contact” in the structure domain, “exchange of support” in the function domain and “loneliness” in the appraisal domain at the environmental level. The conceptual framework facilitated identification of domain related markers in the SHARED project, thus showing its potential feasibility.


The conceptual framework provides guidance for future research and facilitates identification of potentially modifiable risk and protective factors. These may shape new avenues for preventive interventions. We highlight the paradigm of social health in dementia as a priority for dementia research.

© International Psychogeriatric Association 2024