Social Resources That Preserve Functional Independence After Memory Loss

Investigator: Maria Glymour, ScD, MS
Sponsor: U.S. Army Medical Research Acquisition Activity

Location(s): United States


We propose to use a large, diverse, longitudinal study of middle aged and older Americans to identify social factors that help individuals preserve functional independence in basic and instrumental ADLs as long as possible, even in the context of declining memory or severe memory impairment. We focus on factors that are potentially modifiable and therefore have the greatest potential to inform decisions of people living with memory impairment, their families, physicians, military planners, and policy makers. We found strong associations between decreased cognitive functioning and incident ADL limitations. Physical activity may help to decrease the risk of functional impairment even among those with cognitive impairment, while smoking and depression may increase the risk of incident ADL limitations among those with cognitive impairments. This finding has critical importance for clinicians, patients, and family members of individuals with cognitive impairments or incipient dementia. By managing conventional risk factors, it may be possible to stave off dependencies, maximize quality of life, and minimize caregiver burden. This is especially important for older veterans and those with prior exposure to mild, moderate, or severe TBI, who are at elevated risk of memory loss and dementia.