Nav: Home

Youthful cognitive ability strongly predicts mental capacity later in life

January 21, 2019

Early adult general cognitive ability (GCA) -- the diverse set of skills involved in thinking, such as reasoning, memory and perception -- is a stronger predictor of cognitive function and reserve later in life than other factors, such as higher education, occupational complexity or engaging in late-life intellectual activities, report researchers in a new study publishing January 21 in PNAS.

Higher education and late-life intellectual activities, such as doing puzzles, reading or socializing, have all been associated with reduced risk of dementia and sustained or improved cognitive reserve. Cognitive reserve is the brain's ability to improvise and find alternate ways of getting a job done and may help people compensate for other changes associated with aging.

An international team of scientists, led by scientists at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, sought to address a "chicken or egg" conundrum posed by these associations. Does being in a more complex job help maintain cognitive abilities, for example, or do people with greater cognitive abilities tend to be in more complex occupations?

The researchers evaluated more than 1,000 men participating in the Vietnam Era Twin Study of Aging. Although all were veterans, nearly 80 percent of the participants reported no combat experience. All of the men, now in their mid-50s to mid-60s, took the Armed Forces Qualification Test at an average age of 20. The test is a measure GCA. As part of the study, researchers assessed participants' performance in late midlife, using the same GCA measure, plus assessments in seven cognitive domains, such as memory, abstract reasoning and verbal fluency.

They found that GCA at age 20 accounted for 40 percent of the variance in the same measure at age 62, and approximately 10 percent of the variance in each of the seven cognitive domains. After accounting for GCA at age 20, the authors concluded, other factors had little effect. For example, lifetime education, complexity of job and engagement in intellectual activities each accounted for less than 1 percent of variance at average age 62.

"The findings suggest that the impact of education, occupational complexity and engagement in cognitive activities on later life cognitive function likely reflects reverse causation," said first author William S. Kremen, PhD, professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine. "In other words, they are largely downstream effects of young adult intellectual capacity."

In support of that idea, researchers found that age 20 GCA, but not education, correlated with the surface area of the cerebral cortex at age 62. The cerebral cortex is the thin, outer region of the brain (gray matter) responsible for thinking, perceiving, producing and understanding language.

The authors emphasized that education is clearly of great value and can enhance a person's overall cognitive ability and life outcomes. Comparing their findings with other research, they speculated that the role of education in increasing GCA takes place primarily during childhood and adolescence when there is still substantial brain development.

However, they said that by early adulthood, education's effect on GCA appears to level off, though it continues to produce other beneficial effects, such as broadening knowledge and expertise.

Kremen said remaining cognitively active in later life is beneficial, but "our findings suggest we should look at this from a lifespan perspective. Enhancing cognitive reserve and reducing later life cognitive decline may really need to begin with more access to quality childhood and adolescent education."

The researchers said additional investigations would be needed to fully confirm their inferences, such as a single study with cognitive testing at different times throughout childhood and adolescence.
-end-
Co-authors include: Asad Beck and Mark E. Sanderson-Cimino, UC San Diego and San Diego State University; Jeremy A. Elman, Daniel E. Gustavson, Xin M. Tu, Matthew S. Panizzon, Christine Fennema-Notestine, Donald J. Hagler Jr., Bin Fang, Anders M. Dale and senior author Carol E. Franz, UC San Diego; Chandra A. Reynolds, UC Riverside; Eero Vuoksimaa, University of Helsinki; and Rosemary Toomey and Michael J. Lyons, Boston University.

University of California - San Diego

Related Cognitive Function Articles:

Neighborhood features and one's genetic makeup interact to affect cognitive function
Few studies have examined how the neighborhood's physical environment relates to cognition in older adults.
Does abdominal fat affect the cognitive function of older adults with diabetes?
Higher levels of abdominal fat were linked with reduced cognitive function in a Clinical Obesity study of older Asians with type 2 diabetes -- even in individuals with normal weight.
University of Miami study explores cognitive function in people with mental illness
A study funded by the Veterans Administration and directed by researchers at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine has shown few differences in the profiles of genes that influence cognition between people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and the general population.
Hydration may affect cognitive function in some older adults
Among women, lower hydration levels were associated with lower scores on a task designed to measure motor speed, sustained attention, and working memory.
Poverty may be more critical to cognitive function than trauma in adolescent refugees
For approximately a decade, research has examined whether trauma or poverty is the most powerful influence on children's cognitive abilities.
Dietary supplement boosts cognitive function in vegetarians
Vegetarians who take the dietary supplement creatine may enjoy improved brain function, according to a new study.
Debt relief improves psychological and cognitive function, enabling better decision-making
A new study by the Social Service Research Centre at the National University of Singapore demonstrates that reducing the number of debt accounts lowers the mental burden of the poor, thereby improving psychological and cognitive performance.
Does pregnancy history affect cognitive function?
Healthy cognitive aging is a public health priority, especially as the US population grows older.
Does cognitive function affect oral health during aging?
In a Community Dentistry & Oral Epidemiology study, poor cognitive function in older adults was associated with poorer oral health and higher risk of tooth loss in later life.
Stem cell-derived neurons stop seizures and improve cognitive function
About 3.4 million Americans, or 1.2 percent of the population, have active epilepsy.
More Cognitive Function News and Cognitive Function Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Uncharted
There's so much we've yet to explore–from outer space to the deep ocean to our own brains. This hour, Manoush goes on a journey through those uncharted places, led by TED Science Curator David Biello.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#555 Coronavirus
It's everywhere, and it felt disingenuous for us here at Science for the People to avoid it, so here is our episode on Coronavirus. It's ok to give this one a skip if this isn't what you want to listen to right now. Check out the links below for other great podcasts mentioned in the intro. Host Rachelle Saunders gets us up to date on what the Coronavirus is, how it spreads, and what we know and don't know with Dr Jason Kindrachuk, Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and infectious diseases at the University of Manitoba. And...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 1: Numbers
In a recent Radiolab group huddle, with coronavirus unraveling around us, the team found themselves grappling with all the numbers connected to COVID-19. Our new found 6 foot bubbles of personal space. Three percent mortality rate (or 1, or 2, or 4). 7,000 cases (now, much much more). So in the wake of that meeting, we reflect on the onslaught of numbers - what they reveal, and what they hide.  Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.