Life course biopsychosocial effects of retrospective childhood social support and later-life cognition

Academic Article


  • Social support during childhood lays the foundation for social relationships throughout the life course and has been shown to predict a wide range of mental and physical health outcomes. Social support measured in late life is prospectively associated with better cognitive aging, but few studies have evaluated social support received earlier in the life course. We quantified the effects of childhood social support, reported retrospectively, on later-life cognitive trajectories and investigated biopsychosocial mechanisms underlying these associations. Latent growth curve models estimated 10-year cognitive trajectories in 8,538 participants (baseline ages 45-93; Mage = 63) in the REasons for Geographic And Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) project. Independent of sociodemographics, childhood socioeconomic status, and household size, greater retrospective childhood social support was associated with better initial episodic memory, but not verbal fluency or cognitive change, in later adulthood. Associations with initial memory level were mediated by sociodemographic and psychosocial variables; specifically, those who reported greater childhood social support reported higher educational attainment and had better physical and emotional health in adulthood, which were each associated with better memory. These results provide support for broad and enduring effects of childhood social support on mental, physical, and cognitive health decades later.
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    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Zahodne LB; Sharifian N; Manly JJ; Sumner JA; Crowe M; Wadley VG; Howard VJ; Murchland AR; Brenowitz WD; Weuve J
  • Start Page

  • 867
  • End Page

  • 883
  • Volume

  • 34
  • Issue

  • 7