Active cognitive lifestyle is associated with positive cognitive health transitions and compression of morbidity from age sixty-five

PLoS One. 2012;7(12):e50940. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0050940. Epub 2012 Dec 12.


Background: Three factors commonly used as measures of cognitive lifestyle are education, occupation, and social engagement. This study determined the relative importance of each variable to long term cognitive health in those with and without severe cognitive impairment.

Methods: Data came from 12,470 participants from a multi-centre population-based cohort (Medical Research Council Cognitive Function and Ageing Study). Respondents were aged 65 years and over and were followed-up over 16 years. Cognitive states of no impairment, slight impairment, and moderate/severe impairment were defined, based on scores from the Mini-Mental State Examination. Multi-state modelling was used to investigate links between component cognitive lifestyle variables, cognitive state transitions over time, and death.

Results: Higher educational attainment and a more complex mid-life occupation were associated with a lower risk of moving from a non-impaired to a slightly impaired state (hazard ratios 0.5 and 0.8), but with increased mortality from a severely impaired state (1.3 and 1.1). More socially engaged individuals had a decreased risk of moving from a slightly impaired state to a moderately/severely impaired state (0.7). All three cognitive lifestyle variables were linked to an increased chance of cognitive recovery back to the non-impaired state.

Conclusions: In those without severe cognitive impairment, different aspects of cognitive lifestyle predict positive cognitive transitions over time, and in those with severe cognitive impairment, a reduced life-expectancy. An active cognitive lifestyle is therefore linked to compression of cognitive morbidity in late life.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / mortality
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Health Transition*
  • Humans
  • Life Expectancy
  • Life Style*
  • Male
  • Occupations