Early life development in a multiethnic sample and the relation to late life cognition

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2015 Jul;70(4):519-31. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbt126. Epub 2014 Jan 3.


Objectives: Poor quality of early life conditions has been associated with poorer late life cognition and increased risk of dementia. Early life physical development can be captured using adult measures of height and head circumference. Availability of resources may be reflected by socioeconomic indicators, such as parental education and family size. We sought to determine the association between early life development and experience and late life semantic memory, episodic memory, and executive functioning abilities, as well as rate of cognitive decline.

Method: This study was conducted using the UC Davis Aging Diversity cohort, an ethnically diverse sample of Caucasian, African American, and Hispanic individuals from northern California. We used latent variable modeling to measure growth and childhood socioeconomic environment (SES) and examine their associations with longitudinal cognitive outcomes using mixed effects modeling.

Results: Growth was positively related to higher childhood SES. Higher childhood SES was associated with better semantic memory. Both low growth and low SES were associated with increased rate of cognitive decline.

Discussion: These findings demonstrate that early life experiences influence the trajectory of cognitive aging. Early life development and experience appears to provide a distal basis upon which additional risk and protective factors interact in the development of dementia.

Keywords: Cognition; Longitudinal change; Minority and diverse populations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / ethnology*
  • California / ethnology
  • Child
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / ethnology*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Memory, Episodic
  • Social Class*