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Exploring the Relationship Between Cognitive Health and the Social Environment of Older Adults

Flatt, J D (2013) Exploring the Relationship Between Cognitive Health and the Social Environment of Older Adults. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Cognitive health is an important aspect of successful aging, and includes maintaining several cognitive functions such as memory, decision-making, and executive function. Various aspects of older adults’ social environment may play a role in cognitive health. Three studies were conducted, aimed at testing the relationships between memory performance and two socio-environmental factors (social networks and social activities) in a community-based sample of older adults. Study 1 examined the associations between memory performance and several structural characteristics of social networks using linear regression models. Better memory performance was associated with having larger networks, more connected ties, and greater potential access to social capital (less network constraint). Study 2, a qualitative in-depth interview study, explored the types and purposes of social activities in late life, as well as their potential implications for cognitive health, using a grounded theory approach. From this study, we found that older adults tended to participate in four social activity types—Altruism, Creativity, Game and Motion. Building off our findings from the qualitative study, Study 3 examined the associations between four social activity types and memory performance via logistic regression models. We found that those who participated in Altruism and/or in two or more of these social activity types in a typical week were more likely to have better memory performance. These findings raise a number of questions related to the importance of emotional closeness, social capital, enjoyment, creativity, and volunteering in late life, and how these factors could be important for memory and preserving cognitive health.

Maintaining cognitive health in late life is an emerging public health issue with important implications for the well-being of older adults and families in an aging society.Future research is needed to confirm whether these aspects of the social environment are important for memory and overall cognitive functioning in late life. Public health practitioners should consider interventions that enhance older adults’ social network structure or encourage participation in different types of social activities as they may play an important role in cognitive health and well-being in late life.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Flatt, J Djdf50@pitt.eduJDF50
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairAlbert, Stevensmalbert@pitt.eduSMALBERT
Committee MemberLingler, Jennifer Hlinglerj@pitt.eduLINGLERJ
Committee MemberMarx, Johnjmarx@pitt.eduJMARX
Committee MemberDocumet, Patriciapdocumet@pitt.eduPDOCUMET
Committee MemberTrauth, Jeanette M.trauth@pitt.eduTRAUTH
Date: 27 June 2013
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 8 March 2013
Approval Date: 27 June 2013
Submission Date: 21 March 2013
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Number of Pages: 157
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: School of Public Health > Behavioral and Community Health Sciences
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Cognitive health, memory, memory performance, social environment, social networks, social activities, older adults
Date Deposited: 27 Jun 2013 18:18
Last Modified: 01 May 2018 05:15

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