Objectives: Frequent social contact benefits cognition in later life although evidence is lacking on the potential relevance of the modes chosen by older adults, including those living with hearing loss, for interacting with others in their social network.
Method: 11,418 participants in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing provided baseline information on hearing status and social contact mode and frequency of use. Multilevel growth curve models compared episodic memory (immediate and delayed recall) at baseline and longitudinally in participants who interacted frequently (offline only or offline and online combined), compared to infrequently, with others in their social network.
Results: Frequent offline (B=0.23; SE=0.09) and combined offline and online (B=0.71; SE=0.09) social interactions predicted better episodic memory after adjustment for multiple confounders. We observed positive, longitudinal associations between combined offline and online interactions and episodic memory in participants without hearing loss (B=0.50, SE=0.11) but not with strictly offline interactions (B=0.01, SE=0.11). In those with hearing loss, episodic memory was positively related to both modes of engagement (offline only: B=0.79, SE=0.20; combined online and offline: B=1.27, SE=0.20). Sensitivity analyses confirmed the robustness of these findings.
Discussion: Supplementing conventional social interactions with online communication modes may help older adults, especially those living with hearing loss, sustain, and benefit cognitively from, personal relationships.