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BMJ. 2018 Dec 10;363:k4925. doi: 10.1136/bmj.k4925.

Intellectual engagement and cognitive ability in later life (the "use it or lose it" conjecture): longitudinal, prospective study.

Author information

1
NHS Grampian, Aberdeen, UK r.staff@abdn.ac.uk.
2
Department of Psychology, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland.
3
Department of Psychology. University of Aberdeen, UK.
4
Institute of Applied Health Sciences, University of Aberdeen, UK.

Abstract

OBJECTIVES:

To examine the association between intellectual engagement and cognitive ability in later life, and determine whether the maintenance of intellectual engagement will offset age related cognitive decline.

DESIGN:

Longitudinal, prospective, observational study.

SETTING:

Non-clinical volunteers in late middle age (all born in 1936) living independently in northeast Scotland.

PARTICIPANTS:

Sample of 498 volunteers who had taken part in the Scottish Mental Health Survey of 1947, from one birth year (1936).

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES:

Cognitive ability and trajectory of cognitive decline in later life. Typical intellectual engagement was measured by a questionnaire, and repeated cognitive measurements of information processing speed and verbal memory were obtained over a 15 year period (recording more than 1200 longitudinal data points for each cognitive test).

RESULTS:

Intellectual engagement was significantly associated with level of cognitive performance in later life, with each point on a 24 point scale accounting for 0.97 standardised cognitive performance (IQ-like) score, for processing speed and 0.71 points for memory (both P<0.05). Engagement in problem solving activities had the largest association with life course cognitive gains, with each point accounting for 0.43 standardised cognitive performance score, for processing speed and 0.36 points for memory (both P<0.05). However, engagement did not influence the trajectory of age related decline in cognitive performance. Engagement in intellectual stimulating activities was associated with early life ability, with correlations between engagement and childhood ability and education being 0.35 and 0.22, respectively (both P<0.01).

CONCLUSION:

These results show that self reported engagement is not associated with the trajectory of cognitive decline in late life, but is associated with the acquisition of ability during the life course. Overall, findings suggest that high performing adults engage and those that engage more being protected from relative decline.

PMID:
30530522
PMCID:
PMC6287118
DOI:
10.1136/bmj.k4925
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Conflict of interest statement

Competing interests: All authors have completed the ICMJE uniform disclosure form at www.icmje.org/coi_disclosure.pdf and declare: support from the University of Aberdeen for the submitted work; no financial relationships with any organisations that might have an interest in the submitted work in the previous three years; no other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.

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