Effects of Social Activities on Cognitive Functions

Evidence from CHARLS

by Yuqing Hu, Xiaoyan Lei, James P. Smith, Yaohui Zhao

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Abstract

Using the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study (CHARLS) 2008 pilot, the authors investigate the relationship between cognitive abilities and social activities for people aged 45 or older. They group cognition measures into two dimensions: intact mental status and episodic memory. Social activities are defined as participating in certain common specified activities in China such as playing chess, card games, or Mahjong, interacting with friends, and other social activities. OLS association results show that playing Mahjong, chess or card games and interacting with friends are significantly related with episodic memory, both individually and taken as a whole (any of the 3 activities), but individually they are not related to mental intactness while taken as a whole they are. Because social activities may be endogenous, they further investigate using OLS reduced form models whether having facilities that enables social activities in the community level is related to cognition. They find that having an activity center in the community is significantly related to higher episodic memory but no relation to mental intactness. These results point to a possible causal relationship between social activities and cognitive function, especially in strengthening short-term memory.

This paper series made possible by the NIA funded RAND Center for the Study of Aging and the NICHD funded RAND Population Research Center.

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