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J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2011 Jul;66 Suppl 1:i130-40. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbr017.

Cognitive functioning in midlife and old age: combined effects of psychosocial and behavioral factors.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts 02454, USA.



This study examined the joint protective contribution of psychosocial and behavioral factors to cognitive functioning and 10-year change, beyond the influence of sociodemographic factors, physical risk factors, health status, and engagement in cognitive activities.


Participants were from the National Study of Midlife in the United States (MIDUS), ages 32-84 at Time 2, and a subsample, the Boston Longitudinal Study (BOLOS), ages 34-84 at Time 2. We computed a composite protective measure including control beliefs, quality of social support, and physical exercise variables at two occasions, 9-10 years apart. Cognition was assessed at Time 2 in MIDUS and at both occasions in BOLOS. Multiple regressions were used for analysis.


In MIDUS, the more of the protective factors, the better the cognitive performance, and the protective composite moderated education differences in memory. In BOLOS, the Time 1 composite predicted change in reasoning abilities, with a greater protective effect for those with lower education.


A combination of modifiable psychosocial and behavioral factors has both concurrent and long-term protective effects on cognition in adulthood. The results are promising in that educational disparities in memory and reasoning were reduced, suggesting possible interventions to protect against cognitive declines.

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