Late life education and cognitive function in older adults

Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2020 Jun;35(6):633-639. doi: 10.1002/gps.5281. Epub 2020 Feb 19.


Objective: The potential role of education attained after the age of 50, for example, vocational training or recreational courses, in cognitive reserve has been unexplored. We examined the cross-sectional and prospective associations between late life education (LLE) and global cognitive function in older adults.

Methods: A total of 5306 participants (50+ years) in The Irish Longitudinal Study of Ageing answered questions about highest level of education completed and LLE (2010). Cognitive function was defined as the number of errors on the Montreal cognitive assessment (MoCA) assessed in 2010 and 2014. The association between LLE and MoCA-errors was examined using Poisson regression stratified by level of education. Sensitivity analyses were done to examine reverse causation and selection bias.

Results: In those with primary/no (n = 1312, incidence rate ratio [IRR] = 0.83, 95%CI = 0.70-0.99) and secondary education (n = 2208, IRR = 0.88, 95%CI = 0.80-0.97), but not tertiary education (n = 1786, IRR = 0.93, CI = 0.86-1.00), participating in LLE was associated with lower rate of MoCA errors. The prospective association between LLE and 4-year change in MoCA-errors was (borderline) statistically significant in those with primary/no education only (IRR = 0.86, CI = 0.74-1.00). Sensitivity analyses supported robustness of the findings.

Conclusions: LLE may contribute to cognitive reserve and be a useful intervention to mitigate the increased risk of cognitive decline associated with low levels of education.

Keywords: ageing; cognition; educational status; learning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cognition*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Mental Status and Dementia Tests
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prospective Studies