EXPLORATION of factors that influence cognitive ability could help to minimise cognitive decline and risk of dementia. Such factors were investigated in a study using data from 502 participants all born during the same week in 1946. The participants completed thinking and memory tests when they were aged 8 and then again aged 69–71 years old and the results were compared. The test measured memory, language, orientation, and concentration and included tasks such as identifying missing geometric shapes when faced with several options. Factors including sex, childhood ability, and education were taken into consideration. Socioeconomic status was identified by evaluating the occupation of the participant when they were aged 53.
The study’s author, Jonathan M. Schott, University College London, London, UK, commented on the aim: “If we can understand what influences an individual’s cognitive performance in later life, we can determine which aspects might be modifiable by education or lifestyle changes like exercise, diet, or sleep, which may, in turn, slow the development of cognitive decline.”
There was a correlation between those who performed highly in their youth and in older age. The researchers observed that the children in the top 25% of performances in the test were in the top 25% of performances as adults; additionally, women performed better than men in thinking speed and memory testing. Individuals with a college education had an increased score of 16% compared to those who had left school before the age of 16. Socioeconomic status was shown to have no effect on cognitive performance displayed by the participants.
In addition to the cognitive tests, MRI and PET scans for β-amyloid plaques, Alzheimer’s disease markers, were carried out. The scans informed the researchers that those with the plaques scored lower in the tests although there was no association between β-amyloid plaques and socioeconomic status, education, sex, or cognitive ability in childhood.
Limitations of the study include the inability to project the results to wider populations as all participants were Caucasian; however, the researchers confirmed that the results found should be utilised for the investigation of the effects of age on cognitive function.