The Heartwarming Link Between Friendships and Memory in Old Age

Secrets of the SuperAgers.

Photo by Val Vesa on Unsplash

SuperAgers are defined as people over 80 years old with the cognitive health and memory of someone 20 to 30 years their junior. What’s their secret, you ask? It might be friendships, according to a small new study published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Researchers from the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine had 50 people—31 SuperAgers and 19 “cognitively average-for-age peers,” as the study describes them—take a well-being questionnaire. The SuperAgers had been previously selected from an ongoing program at the university, scoring above-average for their age on episodic memory tests, the type of memory that gets worse with age.  

Participants completed something called the Ryff 42-item Psychological Well-Being questionnaire that focused on six topics: autonomy, positive relations with others, environmental mastery, personal growth, purpose in life and self-acceptance, according to the study. In the positive relations with others section, participants rated their agreement with statements like “I know that I can trust my friends and they know they can trust me,” or “I often feel lonely because I have few close friends with whom to share my concerns.”

SuperAgers scored significantly higher in the positive relations section—meaning they reported having more high-quality relationships—compared to their cognitively average peers. This suggests that “perceived high-quality social relationships may be an important factor in cognitive SuperAging,” the study authors write.

“You don’t have to be the life of the party, but this study supports the theory that maintaining strong social networks seems to be linked to slower cognitive decline,” Emily Rogalski, a research associate professor of cognitive neurology and Alzheimer’s disease center, said in the study’s press release.

This supports previous findings about the importance of social connections—specifically close friendships—for our overall well-being, especially as we get older.

“It’s not as simple as saying if you have a strong social network, you’ll never get Alzheimer’s disease,” Rogalski clarified in the press release. “But if there is a list of healthy choices one can make, such as eating a certain diet and not smoking, maintaining strong social networks may be an important one on that list.”

Read the full study here

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