Social networks can change with age, for reasons that are adaptive or unwanted. Social engagement is beneficial to both mental health and cognition, and represents a potentially modifiable factor. Consequently this study explored this association and assessed whether the relationship between mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and mood problems was mediated by social networks.
This study includes an analysis of data from the Cognitive Function and Ageing Study Wales (CFAS Wales). CFAS Wales Phase 1 data were collected from 2010 to 2013 by conducting structured interviews with older people aged over 65 years of age living in urban and rural areas of Wales, and included questions that assessed cognitive functioning, mood, and social networks. Regression analyses were used to investigate the associations between individual variables and the mediating role of social networks.
Having richer social networks was beneficial to both mood and cognition. Participants in the MCI category had weaker social networks than participants without cognitive impairment, whereas stronger social networks were associated with a decrease in the odds of experiencing mood problems, suggesting that they may offer a protective effect against anxiety and depression. Regression analyses revealed that social networks are a significant mediator of the relationship between MCI and mood problems.
These findings are important, as mood problems are a risk factor for progression from MCI to dementia, so interventions that increase and strengthen social networks may have beneficial effects on slowing the progression of cognitive decline.