Early Life Conditions and Cognitive Functioning in Later Life

Susan A. Everson-Rose, Carlos F. Mendes De Leon, Julia L. Bienias, Robert S. Wilson, Denis A. Evans

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124 Scopus citations


Early life conditions are related to cognitive development and abilities in childhood and cognitive function in adulthood. However, the association between early life conditions and cognitive change in old age is unknown. The authors examined the relation between socioeconomic position (SEP) and cognitive milieu in childhood and change in cognitive function in a population-based sample of 4,398 community-dwelling adults (62.1% female; 61.7% Black) aged 65 years or older from Chicago, Illinois. Baseline data were collected in 1993-1997. Change in cognitive function was assessed by means of a global cognitive index derived from measures of memory, perceptual speed, and overall cognitive function administered at three in-home assessments between 1993 and 2003, with an average of 5.3 years of follow-up. After results were controlled for age, sex, race, and education, interactions of time with childhood SEP (β = -0.003, t = -1.0, p = 0.32) and childhood cognitive milieu (β = -0.0008, t= -0.5, p = 0.62) were nonsignificant, indicating that early life conditions were not related to cognitive change. SEP (β = 0.034, t = 2.4, p = 0.01) and cognitive milieu (β = 0.017, t = 2.2, p = 0.03) were associated with absolute level of cognitive function, with better performance being related to higher SEP and a better cognitive milieu. A better SEP and a more stimulating cognitive milieu in childhood have small but significant effects on absolute level of cognitive function; however, they do not seem to protect against cognitive decline in old age.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1083-1089
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican journal of epidemiology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Dec 1 2003

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by grants AG11101 and ES10902 from the National Institutes of Health.


  • Aging
  • Child
  • Cognition
  • Longitudinal studies
  • Social class


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