Participation in group activities such as environmental groups, a voluntary service group or community based groups throughout their lives is associated with better cognitive function of people at age 50, claims a study.
Findings were published in the open access journal BMC Psychology. Researchers from the University of Southampton in London found 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 were associated with better cognitive function at age 50. However, having low socio-economic status as a child and reporting worse mental well-being in adulthood were both associated with worse cognitive function at age 50.
‘Public health policy interventions aimed at promoting cognitive health could include encouraging civic engagement and providing people with opportunities for this.’
To investigate associations between people's social engagement throughout their adult life and cognitive function at age 50, the researchers used data from the British National Child Development Study (NCDS), a general population sample in England, Scotland and Wales. About 9,119 men and women from England, Scotland and Wales participated in the study and were followed up at several points later in life.
At age 33, 83 percent of all respondents reported that they did not participate in any civic organization and further the number dropped to 64 percent at age 50. Participating in one civic organisation was reported by 14 percent of respondents at age 33 and by 25 percent at age 50. The researchers found that almost a third of the sample population's cognitive ability deteriorated between ages eleven 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 that they participated in civic groups at age 33 and 50 scored higher in cognitive tests. "The implication is that if people continue to engage socially throughout life, maintaining related behaviours that require cognitive skills such as memory, attention and control, there may be some protection from cognitive decline," said lead author Professor Ann Bowling.
"Public health policy interventions aimed at promoting cognitive health could include encouraging civic engagement and providing people with opportunities for this," Bowling added.