We investigated the extent to which cognitive dysfunction is shaped by genetic or environmental influences, and whether these factors differ in women and men. All members of the Swedish Twin Registry aged 65 and older were screened by telephone using the TELE, a brief cognitive assessment instrument (Gatz et al., 2002), and the Blessed Dementia Rating Scale (Blessed et al., 1968) from relatives of those who scored poorly on the TELE. Data were available for 4308 pairs where both members responded and 5070 pairs where only one member was alive and participated. To analyze all available data, we used a raw data method extended to ordinal data. As the prevalence of cognitive dysfunction increases with age, we incorporated age-adjusted thresholds. The best fitting model from biometric analyses indicated 35% of the variation in liability to cognitive dysfunction could be explained by heritable influences and the remaining 65% by nonfamilial environmental influences. Differences by gender were not significant. As this is a normative population including cognitively intact individuals, preclinical dementia cases and demented individuals, the relative magnitude of genetic and environmental effects is of particular interest in light of high heritabilities found for dementias such as Alzheimer's disease. The findings emphasize the extent to which research is needed to uncover nonfamilial environmental influences on cognitive dysfunction in later life.
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