Cognitive function trajectories and their determinants in older people: 8 years of follow-up in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing

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Maintaining cognitive function is an important aspect of healthy ageing. In this study, we examined age trajectories of cognitive decline in a large nationally representative sample of older people in England. We explored the factors that influence such decline and whether these differed by gender.


Latent growth curve modelling was used to explore age-specific changes, and influences on them, in an 8-year period in memory, executive function, processing speed and global cognitive function among 10 626 participants in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. We run gender-specific models with the following exposures: age, education, wealth, childhood socioeconomic status, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, physical function, body mass index, physical activity, alcohol, smoking, depression and dementia.


After adjustment, women had significantly less decline than men in memory (0.011, SE 0.006), executive function (0.012, SE 0.006) and global cognitive function (0.016, SE 0.004). Increasing age and dementia predicted faster rates of decline in all cognitive function domains. Depression and alcohol consumption predicted decline in some cognitive function domains in men only. Poor physical function, physical inactivity and smoking were associated with faster rates of decline in specific cognitive domains in both men and women. For example, relative to study members who were physically active, the sedentary experienced greater declines in memory (women −0.018, SE 0.009) and global cognitive function (men −0.015, SE 0.007 and women −0.016, SE 0.007).


The potential determinants of cognitive decline identified in this study, in particular modifiable risk factors, should be tested in the context of randomised controlled trials.

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