Social networks and social activities promote cognitive functioning in both concurrent and prospective time: evidence from the SHARE survey

  • Silvana Miceli
  • Laura Maniscalco
  • Domenica Matranga
Original Investigation


The study aimed to investigate the role of social activities, social networks as well as socioeconomic status (SES) in influencing some aspects of cognitive functioning (immediate and delayed verbal recall tests and semantic verbal fluency) in elderly people over time. This analysis was conducted on a sample of 31,954 healthy elderly people (58% female, mean age 65.54 ± 9.74) interviewed in both the fourth and sixth waves of the Survey on Health, Aging and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), in 2011 and 2015. A structural equation model with measurement component was used to assess the relationship between cognitive function, social life and SES over time. Multilevel ordinal logistic regression was applied to explain satisfaction with social network in relation to different types of social network across countries. Being equipped with good cognitive skills did not seem to be predictive of their maintenance over time (latent coefficient = 0.24, p value = 0.34). On the contrary, the subject’s social and participatory life, understood as satisfying one’s social network and engaging in diversified non-professional social activities, seemed to play a crucial role in the maintenance of cognitive functions in the elderly (latent coefficient = 3.5, p value = 0.03). This research suggests that a socially active and participatory lifestyle mitigates the effects of the physiological process of brain aging.


Health Cognitive function Active aging Social activities Social network Family SHARE survey Structural equation model 



This paper uses data from release 6 of SHARE 2011 and SHARE 2015. The SHARE data collection has been primarily funded by the European Commission through the 5th Framework Programme (project QLK6-CT-2001-00360 in the thematic programme Quality of Life). Additional funding came from the US National Institute on Aging (U01 AG09740-13S2, P01 AG005842, P01 AG08291, P30 AG12815, Y1-AG-4553-01 and OGHA 04-064). Data collection in Austria (through the Austrian Science Foundation, FWF), Belgium (through the Belgian Science Policy Office) and Switzerland (through BBW/OFES/UFES) was nationally funded. The SHARE data collection in Israel was funded by the US National Institute on Aging (R21 AG025169), by the German–Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development (GIF), and by the National Insurance Institute of Israel. Further support by the European Commission through the 6th Framework Programme (Projects SHARE-I3, RII-CT-2006-062193, and COMPARE, CIT5-CT-2005-028857) is gratefully acknowledged. For methodological details see [Börsch-Supan, A. and H. Jürges (Eds.) (2005). The Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe—Methodology. Mannheim: Mannheim Research Institute for the Economics of Aging (MEA)].

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 18 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychological, Pedagogical, and Educational SciencesUniversity of PalermoPalermoItaly
  2. 2.Department of Biomedical, Surgical, and Dental SciencesUniversity of PalermoPalermoItaly
  3. 3.Department of Sciences for Health Promotion and Mother and Child Care “G. D’Alessandro”University of PalermoPalermoItaly

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