Intellectual engagement is associated with level of cognitive performance in later life but does not influence the trajectory of age-related decline in cognitive performance, according to a study published online Dec. 10 in The BMJ.
Roger T. Staff, Ph.D., from NHS Grampian in Aberdeen, Scotland, and colleagues conducted a longitudinal study involving nonclinical volunteers in late middle age born in 1936. Cognitive ability and trajectory of cognitive decline in later life were assessed among 498 volunteers who had taken part in the Scottish Mental Health Survey of 1947.
The researchers observed a significant correlation for intellectual engagement with level of cognitive performance in later life; on a 24-point scale, each point accounted for 0.97 points on the standardized cognitive performance (IQ-like) score for processing speed and 0.71 points for memory. The largest association with life course cognitive gains was seen for engagement in problem-solving activities; each point accounted for 0.43 points on the standardized cognitive performance score for processing speed and 0.36 points for memory. The trajectory of age-related decline in cognitive performance was not influenced by engagement. There was a correlation for engagement with intellectual stimulating activities and early life ability, with correlations of 0.35 and 0.22 between engagement and childhood ability and education, respectively.
"The results also suggest that investment in problem solving throughout life could enhance cognitive performance, providing an individual with a higher cognitive point from which to decline," the authors write.