Operationalizing social environments in cognitive aging and dementia research: A scoping review

Rachel L. Peterson, Kristen M. George, Duyen Tran, Pallavi Malladi, Paola Gilsanz, Amy J.H. Kind, Rachel A. Whitmer, Lilah M. Besser, Oanh L. Meyer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: Social environments are a contributing determinant of health and disparities. This scoping review details how social environments have been operationalized in observational studies of cognitive aging and dementia. Methods: A systematic search in PubMed and Web of Science identified studies of social environment exposures and late-life cognition/dementia outcomes. Data were extracted on (1) study design; (2) population; (3) social environment(s); (4) cognitive outcome(s); (5) analytic approach; and (6) theorized causal pathways. Studies were organized using a 3-tiered social ecological model at interpersonal, community, or policy levels. Results: Of 7802 non-duplicated articles, 123 studies met inclusion criteria. Eighty-four studies were longitudinal (range 1–28 years) and 16 examined time-varying social environments. When sorted into social ecological levels, 91 studies examined the interpersonal level; 37 examined the community/neighborhood level; 3 examined policy level social environments; and 7 studies examined more than one level. Conclu-sions: Most studies of social environments and cognitive aging and dementia examined interpersonal factors measured at a single point in time. Few assessed time-varying social environmental factors or considered multiple social ecological levels. Future studies can help clarify opportunities for intervention by delineating if, when, and how social environments shape late-life cognitive aging and dementia outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number7166
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jul 1 2021


  • Social context
  • Social ecological model


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