Factors related to racial differences in late-life level of cognitive function

Neuropsychology. 2016 Jul;30(5):517-24. doi: 10.1037/neu0000290. Epub 2016 May 5.


Objective: The study aim was to identify factors associated with racial differences in level of cognitive function in old age.

Method: Older Black (n = 5,950) and White (n = 3,469) residents of a geographically defined urban community were randomly split into exploratory and confirmatory subgroups. A global measure of cognition was derived from 4 brief performance tests, and potential correlates of cognition (candidates) were selected from demographic, health-related, and experiential measures. In the exploratory subgroup, using a stepwise search algorithm, we examined the cognitive difference by race and then allowed candidate measures and Race × Candidate Measure interactions to enter the model.

Results: The cognitive score in the exploratory subgroup (M = 0.257, SD = 0.714) was a mean of 0.403 unit lower in Black persons than White persons (SE = 0.021, p < .001), and race accounted for 7% of cognitive variability. After the candidate selection process, 16 measures were retained, including 12 candidate measures and the 2-way interactions of race with education, age, reading/cognitive activity, and neuroticism. In this model, which accounted for 45% of the variability in global cognition, race was no longer associated with global cognition (coefficient = 0.012, SE = 0.110, p = .912). Findings were replicated in the confirmatory subgroup.

Conclusion: These cross-sectional analyses suggest that consideration of demographic, health-related, and experiential factors greatly attenuates racial differences in late-life level of cognition. (PsycINFO Database Record

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / ethnology*
  • Anxiety Disorders / ethnology*
  • Black or African American / ethnology*
  • Chicago / ethnology
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuroticism
  • Reading*
  • White People / ethnology*