Adverse childhood environment and late-life cognitive functioning

Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2011 May;26(5):503-10. doi: 10.1002/gps.2553. Epub 2010 Oct 28.


Objective: Clinical studies suggest that childhood maltreatment may cause nervous system changes and consequent cognitive disorder. The persistence of this association in late-life is examined.

Methods: Cognitive functioning and childhood events were examined in 1282 persons over 65 years, taking into account proximal competing causes of poor cognitive performance.

Results: Ninety one per cent experienced at least one adverse childhood event, of these 14.7% severe events. Sharing of parental problems and, for women, loss of a parent were associated with poorer verbal retrieval whereas being sent to a foster home or mistreatment by schoolmates was associated with poorer visuospatial memory. Severe abuse was associated with a lower risk of cognitive impairment on some tests suggesting a resilience factor. Positive childhood environment was protective although only for non-carriers of the ApoE ε4 allele on the central executive task.

Conclusions: Some adverse childhood events continue to have a negative effect on later-life cognitive performance, while some more severe acute events may have the opposite effect, underlying the necessity to consider events individually and not as global test scores.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Child Abuse*
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology