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Emotional support keeps brain going into old age

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  • Ian Pitchford
    FOR RELEASE: 1 JULY 2001 AT 12:15 ET US Center for the Advancement of Health Emotional support keeps brain going into old age Relying on a network of family
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 1, 2001
      FOR RELEASE: 1 JULY 2001 AT 12:15 ET US
      Center for the Advancement of Health

      Emotional support keeps brain going into old age

      Relying on a network of family and friends for emotional support may slow the
      cognitive decline associated with getting older, and single older people may
      stay mentally sharper than married couples, according to a new analysis of data
      from the MacArthur Studies of Successful Aging.

      Nearly 1,200 men and women between the ages of 70 and 79 years participated in
      the MacArthur study and all were considered to be in good health, both
      physically and cognitively, at time of entry. They were followed for 7.5 years.

      “Emotional support was a significant, independent predictor of maintenance of
      better cognitive function over (the) follow-up, independent of other known risk
      factors for cognitive aging,” says Teresa Seeman, Ph.D., of the University of
      California, Los Angeles.

      Seeman and colleagues also report the unexpected finding that unmarried
      participants had better cognitive function during the follow-up period than
      those who were married.

      “Presence of a spouse has generally been found to predict better health
      outcomes. However, in this older cohort, presence of a spouse may be associated
      with greater burdens for care of the spouse which may have negative effects on
      cognition,” they say.

      The study appears in the July issue of Health Psychology.

      “In contrast to nearly all previous studies which rely on measures designed to
      identify significant cognitive impairment indicative of dementia, the cognitive
      assessments available in the MacArthur Study provide more nuanced assessment of
      major domains of cognitive function such as language, verbal and nonverbal
      memory, abstract reasoning and spatial ability,” Seeman says.

      They also found that those who reported more frequent conflict/demands from
      social relationships had better cognitive functioning, which may reflect
      greater participation in complex social interaction on the part of those

      Earlier research has shown that heightened physiological reactivity and arousal
      is associated with greater cognitive decline. This study showed that emotional
      support had a tempering effect on reactivity and arousal, suggesting a possible
      biological mechanism for the observed relationship between such support and
      improved cognitive functioning.

      This study’s findings also show that the association between emotional support
      and cognitive function was not caused by other psychological factors such as
      depression or a person’s belief that they could alter their life. This “is
      noteworthy since these latter two factors might be expected to serve as
      mediators of the effects of emotional support on cognition,” she says in the

      The study was supported by grants from the John A. Hartford Foundation/American
      Federation for Aging Research Medical Student Geriatrics Scholars Program, the
      MacArthur Research Network on Successful Aging, the National Institute on
      Aging, the AARP Andrus Foundation and the Alzheimer’s Association.

      Health Psychology is the official, peer-reviewed research journal of the
      Division of Health Psychology (Division 38), American Psychological
      Association. For information about the journal, contact Arthur Stone, Ph.D., at
      (631) 632-8833.

      Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health http://www.cfah.org For
      more research news and information, go to our special section devoted to health
      and behavior in the “Peer-Reviewed Journals” area of Eurekalert!,
      http://www.eurekalert.org/restricted/reporters/journals/cfah. For information
      about the Center, call Ira Allen, iallen@..., 202-387-2829.

      Additional Contact: Cheril Miller, 310-312-0531, cjmiller@...
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