Gender and Educational Differences in the Association between Lifestyle and Cognitive Decline over 10 Years: The Doetinchem Cohort Study
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BACKGROUND: Several modifiable risk factors for cognitive decline have been identified, but whether differences by gender and educational level exist is unclear.
OBJECTIVE: The present study aims to clarify this by prospectively investigating the relationship between health- and lifestyle factors and cognitive functioning in different subgroups defined by gender and educational level.
METHODS: 2,347 cognitive healthy individuals (mean age = 54.8, SD = 6.8, range: 41-71; 51.8% female; 26.2% low education) from the Doetinchem Cohort Study were examined for cognitive function at baseline, and at 5- and 10-year follow-up. Health- and lifestyle factors were captured by a poly-environmental risk score labelled 'LIfestyle for BRAin Health' (LIBRA). This score consists of 12 modifiable risk and protective factors for cognitive decline and dementia, with higher scores indicating greater risk (range: -2.7 to +12.7). Heterogeneity in associations between LIBRA and decline in verbal memory, cognitive flexibility, and mental speed between males and females and individuals with different levels of education were assessed in linear mixed models.
RESULTS: Overall, higher LIBRA scores predicted faster decline in verbal memory, cognitive flexibility, and mental speed over 10 years. Higher LIBRA scores were further associated with increased risk for incident cognitive impairment (one-point increase in LIBRA: HR = 1.09, 1.04-1.14, p = 0.001). In general, these effects were similar across gender and educational level.
CONCLUSION: A composite risk score comprising unhealthy lifestyle and relatively poor health in midlife is significantly associated with a worse course of cognition 10 years later. These associations were for the most part unrelated to gender or educational differences.