Introduction: An aging population brings increasing burdens and costs to individuals and society arising from late-life cognitive decline, the causes of which are unclear. We aimed to identify factors predicting late-life cognitive decline.
Methods: Participants were 889 community-dwelling 70-90-year-olds from the Sydney Memory and Ageing Study with comprehensive neuropsychological assessments at baseline and a 2-year follow-up and initially without dementia. Cognitive decline was considered as incident mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or dementia, as well as decreases in attention/processing speed, executive function, memory, and global cognition. Associations with baseline demographic, lifestyle, health and medical factors were determined.
Results: All cognitive measures showed decline and 14% of participants developed incident MCI or dementia. Across all participants, risk factors for decline included older age and poorer smelling ability most prominently, but also more education, history of depression, being male, higher homocysteine, coronary artery disease, arthritis, low health status, and stroke. Protective factors included marriage, kidney disease, and antidepressant use. For some of these factors the association varied with age or differed between men and women. Additional risk and protective factors that were strictly age- and/or sex-dependent were also identified. We found salient population attributable risks (8.7-49.5%) for older age, being male or unmarried, poor smelling ability, coronary artery disease, arthritis, stroke, and high homocysteine.
Discussion: Preventing or treating conditions typically associated with aging might reduce population-wide late-life cognitive decline. Interventions tailored to particular age and sex groups may offer further benefits.