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Neurology. 2009 Jun 9;72(23):2029-35. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e3181a92c36.

Predictors of maintaining cognitive function in older adults: the Health ABC study.

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Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, 4150 Clement St., San Francisco, CA 94117, USA.



Although several risk factors for cognitive decline have been identified, much less is known about factors that predict maintenance of cognitive function in advanced age.


We studied 2,509 well-functioning black and white elders enrolled in a prospective study. Cognitive function was measured using the Modified Mini-Mental State Examination at baseline and years 3, 5, and 8. Random effects models were used to classify participants as cognitive maintainers (cognitive change slope > or = 0), minor decliners (slope < 0 and > 1 SD below mean), or major decliners (slope < or = 1 SD below mean). Logistic regression was used to identify domain-specific factors associated with being a maintainer vs a minor decliner.


Over 8 years, 30% of the participants maintained cognitive function, 53% showed minor decline, and 16% had major cognitive decline. In the multivariate model, baseline variables significantly associated with being a maintainer vs a minor decliner were age (odds ratio [OR] = 0.65, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.55-0.77 per 5 years), white race (OR = 1.72, 95% CI 1.30-2.28), high school education level or greater (OR = 2.75, 95% CI 1.78-4.26), ninth grade literacy level or greater (OR = 4.85, 95% CI 3.00-7.87), weekly moderate/vigorous exercise (OR = 1.31, 95% CI 1.06-1.62), and not smoking (OR = 1.84, 95% CI 1.14-2.97). Variables associated with major cognitive decline compared to minor cognitive decline are reported.


Elders who maintain cognitive function have a unique profile that differentiates them from those with minor decline. Importantly, some of these factors are modifiable and thus may be implemented in prevention programs to promote successful cognitive aging. Further, factors associated with maintenance may differ from factors associated with major cognitive decline, which may impact prevention vs treatment strategies.

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