Skip to main content Accessibility help

Early and late life cognitive activity and cognitive systems in old age

  • ROBERT S. WILSON (a1) (a2) (a3), LISA L. BARNES (a1) (a2) (a3), KRISTIN R. KRUEGER (a1) (a3), GEORGE HOGANSON (a1), JULIA L. BIENIAS (a4) (a5) and DAVID A. BENNETT (a1) (a2)...


Little is known about the relative benefits of cognitively stimulating activities at different points in the lifespan. In a cohort of 576 older persons without dementia, we assessed current and past (childhood, young adulthood, middle age) frequency of cognitive activity; availability of cognitively stimulating resources in the home in childhood and middle age; and 5 domains of cognitive function. Past cognitive activity and cognitive resources were positively correlated with both current cognitive activity and current cognitive function. The association with cognitive function was reduced after controlling for current cognitive activity, however. Current cognitive activity was associated with better cognitive function, especially semantic memory and perceptual speed, even after controlling for past activity. The results suggest that past cognitive activity contributes to current cognition principally through its association with cognitive activity in old age. (JINS, 2005, 11, 400–407.)


Corresponding author

Reprint requests to: Robert S. Wilson, PhD, Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center, Rush University Medical Center, Armour Academic Center, 600 South Paulina, Suite 1038, Chicago, IL 60612. E-mail:


Hide All


Albert, M., Smith, L., Scherr, P., Taylor, J., Evans, D., & Funkenstein, H.. (1991). Use of brief cognitive tests to identify individuals in the community with clinically diagnosed Alzheimer's disease. International Journal of Neuroscience, 57, 167178.
Beaulieu, C. & Colonnier, M. (1989). Number and size of neurons and synapses in the motor cortex of cats raised in different environmental complexities. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 289, 178181.
Benes, F.M., Turtle, M., Kahn, Y., & Farol, P. (1994). Myelination of a key relay zone in the hippocampal formation occurs in the human brain during childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Archives of General Psychiatry, 51, 477484.
Bennett, D.A., Schneider, J.A., Buchman, A.S., Mendes de Leon, C.F., Bienlas, J.L., & Wilson, R.S. (in press). The Rush Memory and Aging Project: Study design and baseline characteristics of the study cohort. Neuroepidemiology.
Bennett, D.A., Wilson, R.S., Schneider, J.A., Evans, D.A., Mendes de Leon, C.F., Arnold, S.E., Barnes, L.L., & Bienias, J.L. (2003). Education modifies the relation of AD pathology to level of cognitive function in older persons. Neurology, 60, 19091915.
Benton, A.L., Sivan, A.B., Hamsher, K.DeS., Varney, N.R., & Spreen, O. (1994). Contributions to neuropsychological assessment (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.
Bradley, R.H., Caldwell, B.M., Rock, S.L., Barnard, K.E., Gray, C., Hammond, M.A., Mitchell, S., Siegel, L.M., Ramey, C.T., Gottfried, A.M., & Johnson, D.L. (1989). Home environment and cognitive development in the first 3 years of life: A collaborative study involving six sites and three ethnic groups in North America. Developmental Psychology, 28, 217235.
Christensen, H. & Mackinnon, A. (1993). The association between mental, social, and physical activity and cognitive performance in young and old subjects. Age and Ageing, 22, 175182.
Comery, T.A., Stamoudis, C.X., Irwin, S.A., & Greenough, W.T. (1996). Increased density of multiple-head dendritic spines on medium-sized spiny neurons of the striatum in rats reared in a complex environment. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 66, 9396.
Cooper, J.A. & Sagar, H.J. (1993). Incidental and intentional recall in Parkinson's disease: An account based on diminished attentional resources. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 15, 713731.
Ekstrom, R.B., French, J.W., Harman, H.H., & Kermen, D. (1976). Manual for kit of factor-referenced cognitive tests. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.
Eriksson, P.S., Perfilieva, E., Bjork-Eriksson, T., Alborn, A.M., Nordborg, C., Peterson, D.A., & Gage, F.H. (1998). Neurogenesis in the adult human hippocampus. Nature Medicine, 4, 13131317.
Folstein, M., Folstein, S., & McHugh, P. (1975). Mental-Mental State: A practical method for grading the mental state of patients for the clinician. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 12, 189198.
Friedland, R.P., Fritsch, T., Smyth, K.A., Koss, E., Lerner, A.J., Chen, C.H., Petot, G.J., & Debanne, S.M. (2001). Patients with Alzheimer's disease have reduced activities in midlife compared with healthy control-group members. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA, 98, 34403445.
Greenough, W.T., Hwang, H.M., & Gorman, C. (1985). Evidence for active synapse formation or altered postsynaptic metabolism in visual cortex of rats reared in complex environments. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA, 82, 45494552.
Hultsch, D., Hammer, M., & Small, B. (1993). Age difference in cognitive performance in later life: Relationships to self-reported health and activity life style. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 48, P1P11.
Jones, T.A., Klintsova, A.Y., Kilman, V.L., Sirevaag, A.M., & Greenough, W.T. (1997). Induction of multiple synapses by experience in the visual cortex of adult rats. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 68, 1320.
Hultsch, D., Hertzog, C., Small, B., & Dixon, R. (1999). Use it or lose it: Engaged lifestyle as a buffer of cognitive decline in aging? Psychology and Aging, 14, 245263.
Kaplan, E.F., Goodglass, H., & Weintraub, S. (1983). The Boston Naming Test. Philadelphia: Lea & Febiger.
Katz, L.C. & Shatz, C.J. (1996). Synaptic activity and construction of cortical circuits. Science, 274, 11331138.
Kempermann, G., Kuhn, H.G., & Gage, F.H. (1997). More hippocampal neurons in adult mice living in an enriched environment. Nature, 386, 493495.
Kornack, D.R. & Rakic, P. (1999). Continuation of neurogenesis in the hippocampus of the adult macaque monkey. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA, 96, 57685773.
McKhann, G., Drachman, D., Folstein, M., Katzman, R., Price, D., & Stadlan, E. (1984). Clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease: Report of the NINCDS/ADRDA Work Group under the auspices of Department of Health and Human Services Task Force on Alzheimer's Disease. Neurology, 34, 939944.
Morris, J., Heyman, A., Mohs, R., Hughes, J., van Belle, G., Fillenbaum, G., Mellits, E., Clark, C., & Investigators, C. (1989). The consortium to establish a registry for Alzheimer's disease (CERAD). Part I. Clinical and neuropsychological assessment of Alzheimer's disease. Neurology, 39, 11591165.
Nudo, R.J., Wise, B.M., SiFuentes, F., & Milliken, G.W. (1996). Neural substrates for the effects of rehabilitative training on motor recovery after ischemic infarct. Science, 272, 17911794.
Paus, T., Zijdenbos A., Worsley K., Collins, D.L., Blumenthal, J., Giedd, J.N., Rapoport, J.L., & Evans, A.C. (1999). Structural maturation of neural pathways in children and adolescents: In vivo study. Science, 283, 19081911.
Penn, A.A. & Shatz, C.J. (1999). Brain waves and brain wiring: The role of endogenous and sensory-driven neural activity in development. Pediatric Research, 45, 447458.
Pfefferbaum, A., Mathalon, D.H., Sullivan, E.V., Rawles, J.M., Zipursky, R.B., & Lim, K.O. (1994). A quantitative magnetic resonance imaging study of changes in brain morphology from infancy to late adulthood. Archives of Neurology, 51, 874887.
Rand, W.M. (1971). Objective criteria for the evaluation of clustering methods. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 66, 846850.
Raven, J.C., Court, J.H., & Raven J. (1992). Manual for Raven's progressive matrices and vocabulary: Standard Progressive Matrices. Oxford, UK: Oxford Psychologists Press.
SAS Institute, Inc. (2000). SAS/STAT® User's Guide, Version 8. Cary, NC: SAS Institute, Inc.
Scarmeas, N., Levy, G., Tang, M.-X., Manly, J., & Stern, Y. (2001). Influence of leisure activity on the incidence of Alzheimer's disease. Neurology, 57, 22362242.
Seil, F.J. (1997). Recovery and repair issues after stroke from the scientific perspective. Current Opinions in Neurobiology, 10, 4951.
Singer, W. (1995). Development and plasticity of cortical processing architectures. Science, 270, 758764.
Smith, A. (1982). Symbol Digit Modalities Test manual–revised. Los Angeles, CA: Western Psychological Services.
Steen, R.G., Ogg, R.J., Reddick, W.E., & Kingsley, P.B. (1997). Age-related changes in the pediatric brain: Quantitative MR evidence of maturational changes during adolescence. American Journal of Neuroradiology, 18, 819828.
Stern, Y. (2002). What is cognitive reserve? Theory and research application of the reserve concept. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 8, 448460.
Trenerry, M.R., Crosson, B., DeBoe, J., & Leber, W.R. (1989). The Stroop Neuropsychological Screening Test. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.
Verghese, J., Lipton, R.B., Katz, M.J., Hall, C.B., Derby, C.A., Kuslansky, G., Ambrose, A.F., Sliwinski, M., & Buschke, M. (2003). Leisure activities and the risk of dementia in the elderly. New England Journal of Medicine, 348, 25082516.
Wang, H.-X., Karp, A., Winblad, B., & Fratiglioni, L. (2002). Late-life engagement in social and leisure activities is associated with a decreased risk of dementia: A longitudinal study from the Kungsholmen Project. American Journal of Epidemiology, 155, 10811087.
Wechsler, D. (1987). Wechsler Memory Scale–Revised manual. San Antonio, TX: Psychological Corporation.
Wilson, R.S., Barnes, L.L., & Bennett, D.A. (2003). Assessment of lifetime participation in cognitively stimulating activities. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 25, 634642.
Wilson, R.S., Beckett, L.A., Barnes, L.L., Schneider, J.A., Bach, J., Evans, D.A., & Bennett, D.A. (2002a). Individual differences in rates of change in cognitive abilities of older persons. Psychology and Aging, 17, 179193.
Wilson, R.S., Bennett, D.A., Beckett, L.A., Morris, M.C., Gilley, D.W., Bienias, J.L., Scherr, P.A., & Evans, D.A. (1999). Cognitive activity in older persons from a geographically defined population. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 54B, P155P160.
Wilson, R.S., Bennett, D.A., Bienias, J.L., Aggarwal, N.T., Mendes de Leon, C.F., Morris, M.C., Schneider, J.A., & Evans, D.A. (2002b). Cognitive activity and incident AD in a population-based sample of older persons. Neurology, 59, 19101914.
Wilson, R.S., Bennett, D.A., Gilley, D.W., Beckett, L.A., Barnes, L.L., & Evans, D.A. (2000). Premorbid reading activity and patterns of cognitive decline in Alzheimer's disease. Archives of Neurology, 57, 17181723.
Wilson, R.S., Mendes de Leon, C.F., Barnes, L.L., Schneider, J.A., Bienias, J.L., Evans, D.A., & Bennett, D.A. (2002c). Participation in cognitively stimulating activities and risk of incident Alzheimer's disease. Journal of the American Medical Association, 287, 742748.



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed