We tested the hypothesis that social engagement is associated with larger brain volumes in a cohort study of 348 older male former lead manufacturing workers () and population-based controls (), age 48 to 82. Social engagement was measured using a summary scale derived from confirmatory factor analysis. The volumes of 20 regions of interest (ROIs), including total brain, total gray matter (GM), total white matter (WM), each of the four lobar GM and WM, and 9 smaller structures were derived from T1-weighted structural magnetic resonance images. Linear regression models adjusted for age, education, race/ethnicity, intracranial volume, hypertension, diabetes, and control (versus lead worker) status. Higher social engagement was associated with larger total brain and GM volumes, specifically temporal and occipital GM, but was not associated with WM volumes except for corpus callosum. A voxel-wise analysis supported an association in temporal lobe GM. Using longitudinal data to discern temporal relations, change in ROI volumes over five years showed null associations with current social engagement. Findings are consistent with the hypothesis that social engagement preserves brain tissue, and not consistent with the alternate hypothesis that persons with smaller or shrinking volumes become less socially engaged, though this scenario cannot be ruled out.
James, B. D., Glass, T. A., Caffo, B., Bobb, J. F., Davatzikos, C., Yousem, D., & Schwartz, B. S. (2012). Association of social engagement with brain volumes assessed by structural MRI. Journal of Aging Research, 2012. https://doi.org/10.1155/2012/512714