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Physical and recreational activities are behaviors that may modify risk of late-life cognitive decline. We sought to examine the role of retrospectively self-reported midlife (age 40) physical and recreational activity engagement – and self-reported change in these activities from age 40 to initial study visit – in predicting late-life cognition.
Data were obtained from 898 participants in a longitudinal study of cognitive aging in demographically and cognitively diverse older adults (Age: range = 49–93 years, M = 75, SD = 7.19). Self-reported physical and recreational activity participation at age 40 and at the initial study visit were quantified using the Life Experiences Assessment Form. Change in activities was modeled using latent change scores. Cognitive outcomes were obtained annually (range = 2–17 years) using the Spanish and English Neuropsychological Assessment Scales, which measure verbal episodic memory, semantic memory, visuospatial processing, and executive functioning.
Physical activity engagement at age 40 was strongly associated with cognitive performance in all four domains at the initial visit and with global cognitive slope. However, change in physical activities after age 40 was not associated with cognitive outcomes. In contrast, recreational activity engagement – both at age 40 and change after 40 – was predictive of cognitive intercepts and slope.
Retrospectively self-reported midlife physical and recreational activity engagement were strongly associated with late-life cognition – both level of performance and rate of future decline. However, the data suggest that maintenance of recreational activity engagement (e.g., writing, taking classes, reading) after age 40 is more strongly associated with late-life cognition than continued maintenance of physical activity levels.
Brain reserve, cognitive reserve, and education are thought to protect against late-life cognitive decline, but these variables have not been directly compared to one another in the same model, using future cognitive and functional decline as outcomes. We sought to determine whether the influence of these protective factors on executive function (EF) and daily function decline was dependent upon Alzheimer’s disease (AD) pathology severity, as measured by the total tau to beta-amyloid (T-τ/Aβ1-42) ratio in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).
Participants were 1201 older adult volunteers in the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) study. Brain reserve was defined using a composite index of structural brain volumes (total brain matter, hippocampus, and white matter hyperintensity). Cognitive reserve was defined as the variance in episodic memory performance not explained by brain integrity and demographics.
At higher levels of T-τ/Aβ1-42, brain and cognitive reserve predicted slower decline in EF. Only brain reserve attenuated decline at lower levels of T-τ/Aβ1-42. Education had no independent association with cognitive decline.
These results point to a hierarchy of protection against aging- and disease-associated cognitive decline. When pathology is low, only structural brain integrity predicts rate of future EF decline. The ability of cognitive reserve to predict future EF decline becomes stronger as CSF biomarker evidence of AD increases. Although education is typically thought of as a proxy for cognitive reserve, it did not show any protective effects on cognition after accounting for brain integrity and the residual cognitive reserve index.
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