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Am J Epidemiol. 2012 Apr 15;175(8):750-9. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwr509. Epub 2012 Apr 2.

Is cognitive aging predicted by one's own or one's parents' educational level? results from the three-city study.

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  • 1Department of Society, Human Development, and Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Kresge 617, 677 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA. mglymour@hsph.harvard.edu


The authors examined the associations of participants' and their parents' educational levels with cognitive decline while addressing methodological limitations that might explain inconsistent results in prior work. Residents of Dijon, France (n = 4,480) 65 years of age or older who were enrolled between 1999 and 2001 were assessed using the Isaacs' verbal fluency test, Benton Visual Retention Test, Trail Making Test B, and Mini-Mental State Examination up to 5 times over 9 years. The authors used random-intercepts mixed models with inverse probability weighting to account for differential survival (conditional on past performance) and quantile regressions to assess bias from measurement floors or ceilings. Higher parental educational levels predicted better average baseline performances for all tests but a faster average decline in score on the Isaacs' test. Higher participant educational attainment predicted better baseline performances on all tests and slower average declines in Benton Visual Retention Test, Trail Making Test B, and Mini-Mental State Examination scores. Slope differences were generally small, and most were not robust to alternative model specifications. Quantile regressions suggested that ceiling effects might have modestly biased effect estimates, although the direction of this bias might depend on the test instrument. These findings suggest that the possible impacts of educational experiences on cognitive change are small, domain-specific, and potentially incorrectly estimated in conventional analyses because of measurement ceilings.

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