Life experience and demographic influences on cognitive function in older adults

Paul W H Brewster, Rebecca J. Melrose, María J. Marquine, Julene K. Johnson, Anna Napoles, Anna MacKay-Brandt, Sarah E Tomaszewski Farias, Bruce R Reed, Dan M Mungas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


Objective: We examined the influence of a broad spectrum of life experiences on longitudinal cognitive trajectories in a demographically diverse sample of older adults. Method: Participants were 333 educationally, ethnically, and cognitively diverse older adults enrolled in a longitudinal aging study. Mixed-effects regression was used to measure baseline status in episodic memory, executive functioning, and semantic memory and change in a global cognition factor defined by change in these 3 domain-specific measures. We examined effects of life experience variables (literacy, childhood socioeconomic status, morphometric measures of physical development, life course physical and recreational activity) on longitudinal cognitive trajectories, covarying for age, apolipoprotein E (APOE) genotype and demographics (education, ethnicity, language). Results: Non-Latino Whites had higher baseline cognition, but life experience variables attenuated ethnic differences in cognitive scores. Age, literacy, childhood socioeconomic status, and physical activity significantly influenced baseline cognition. Age, APOE ε4, and decline in intellectually and socially stimulating recreational activity from mid to late life were independently associated with increased late life cognitive decline. Higher literacy and late life recreational activity were associated with less decline. Literacy had similar effects for English and Spanish readers/speakers. Bilingual English and Spanish speakers did not differ from English Speakers in cognitive performance. Conclusions: Life experience variables, especially literacy level, were strongly related to baseline cognition and substantially attenuated effects of race/ethnicity and education. Cognitive change was best explained by age, APOE ε4, literacy, and current recreational activities. Literacy had robust associations with baseline cognition and cognitive change in both English and Spanish speakers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)846-858
Number of pages13
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2014


  • Aging
  • Cognitive change
  • Individual differences
  • Minority and diverse populations
  • Recreational activity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


Dive into the research topics of 'Life experience and demographic influences on cognitive function in older adults'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this