Background: Risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease is higher among adults with limited education, and the less educated perform poorer on cognitive function tests. This study determines whether the socioeconomic environment experienced during childhood has an impact on cognitive functioning in middle age.
Methods: A population-based study of eastern Finnish men (n = 496) aged 58 and 64 for whom there were data on parent's socioeconomic position (SEP), their own education level, and performance on neuropsychological tests. Cognitive function was measured using the Trail Making Test, the Selective Reminding Test, the Verbal Fluency Test, the Visual Reproduction Test, and the Mini Mental State Exam.
Results: We found a significant and graded association between parental SEP (combined as an index) and cognitive function both prior to and after adjustment for respondent's education. Those from more disadvantaged backgrounds exhibited the poorest performance. When the separate components of the parental SEP measure were used, father's occupation and mother's education were independently associated with the respondent's score for three and five of the tests, respectively (there was no association with father's education and mother's occupation). After adjustment for the respondent's education, father's occupation was no longer associated with respondent's test score, however, the results were essentially unchanged for mother's education.
Conclusions: Higher SEP during childhood and greater educational attainment are both associated with cognitive function in adulthood, with mothers and fathers each contributing to their offspring's formative cognitive development and later life cognitive ability (albeit in different ways). Improvements in both parental socioeconomic circumstances and the educational attainment of their offspring could possibly enhance cognitive function and decrease risk of dementia later in life.