What do parents have to do with my cognitive reserve? life course perspectives on twelve-year cognitive decline

Hector M. González, Wassim Tarraf, Mary E. Bowen, Michelle D. Johnson-Jennings, Gwenith G. Fisher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Background/Aims: To examine the cognitive reserve hypothesis by comparing the contribution of early childhood and life course factors related to cognitive functioning in a nationally representative sample of older Americans. Methods: We examined a prospective, national probability cohort study (Health and Retirement Study; 1998-2010) of older adults (n = 8,833) in the contiguous 48 United States. The main cognitive functioning outcome was a 35-point composite of memory (recall), mental status, and working memory tests. The main predictors were childhood socioeconomic position (SEP) and health, and individual-level adult achievement and health. Results: Individual-level achievement indicators (i.e., education, income, and wealth) were positively and significantly associated with baseline cognitive function, while adult health was negatively associated with cognitive function. Controlling for individual-level adult achievement and other model covariates, childhood health presented a relatively small negative, but statistically significant association with initial cognitive function. Neither individual achievement nor childhood SEP was statistically linked to decline over time. Conclusions: Cognitive reserve purportedly acquired through learning and mental stimulation across the life course was associated with higher initial global cognitive functioning over the 12-year period in this nationally representative study of older Americans. We found little supporting evidence that childhood economic conditions were negatively associated with cognitive function and change, particularly when individual-level achievement is considered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)101-109
Number of pages9
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2013


  • Cognitive reserve
  • Development
  • Life course
  • Older adults


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