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Life-long intellectual activities mediate the predictive effect of early education on cognitive impairment in centenarians: a retrospective study

Institute of Psychology, Department of Gerontopsychology, University of Zurich, Schaffhauserstr. 15, CH-8006, Zürich, Switzerland.
Aging and Mental Health (Impact Factor: 1.78). 09/2004; 8(5):430-437. DOI: 10.1080/13607860410001725072
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT The purpose of this study was to examine the hypothesis of whether early education and/or maintaining intellectual activities over the life-course have the power to protect against cognitive impairment even in extremely old adults. Ninety centenarians from the population-based Heidelberg Centenarian Study were assessed with a modified version of the Mini Mental State Exam (MMSE). Data about education, occupational status, and life-long intellectual activities in four selected domains were obtained. Results demonstrated that 52% of the sample showed mild-to-severe cognitive impairment. Analyzing the influence of early education, occupational status, and intellectual activities on cognitive status we applied several (logistic) regression analyses. Results revealed independent, significant and strong influence of both formal school education and intellectual activities on the cognitive status in very late life, even after controlling for occupational status. However, about one fourth of the effect of early education on cognitive status was exerted indirectly via the assessed intellectual activities. In summary, the present study provides first evidence for the conclusion that even with regard to cognitive performance in very old age, both early education and life-long intellectual activities seem to be of importance.

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Available from: Matthias Kliegel, Jul 24, 2015
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    • "Specifically, our work is driven by the following assumptions: (1) education will be associated with cognition, such that individuals with higher levels of educational attainment will demonstrate better performance on cognitive measures; (2) older adults with higher levels of educational attainment will report being more active, especially in intellectually demanding activities; (3) intellectual activities will influence cognition, such that participation in intellectually demanding activities (as compared to other forms of activity) will be related to better cognitive performance, independent of education . Consequently, we expect that the association between education and cognition will be attenuated (not completely eliminated) once participation in a wide variety of lifestyle activities is considered [28] [29]. Further, we also expect that the effects will be greatest for intellectually demanding activities, as these may be more strongly associated with both education and cognition [1–5, 10, 12–14]. "
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