A collaborative approach in social interactions could be a key to memory retention and independent living later in life, new research reveals.

Researchers studied middle-aged and elderly husband-and-wife pairs to find out if there was a collaborative component in extending individuals’ memory. The middle-aged couples had an average age of 35 while the elderly couples had an average age of 75.

In memory-specific tasks, they noticed that the younger pairs were better able to fill in memory gaps than their older counterparts.  Couples who were sociable, collaborative and encouraging did better on the memory tasks.

The investigators noted that although this study focused on couples, it has broader implications.

“This study had to do with couples, but you interact with coworkers, adult children and others throughout middle and late life. If someone is living in a long-term care facility, they’re interacting with caregivers,” said lead researcher Jennifer Margrett, Ph.D. “And so the idea is to extrapolate our findings to other dyads to see how we can support people within the context of both normal cognitive aging, as well as non-normative cognitive aging — which includes some memory impairment, and potentially dementia.”

The study was published online in the Journal of Psychology.