Frontier: Active brain and body help maintain cognitive function
News from the frontier

by Maria Schamis Turner

June, 2009

Remaining active—physically, mentally, and socially—can help maintain cognitive function in older adults, according to a study published June 9 in Neurology.

Alexandra Fiocco, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues followed 2,509 well-functioning seniors, age 70 to 79 at recruitment, for eight years. Cognitive function was measured at the beginning of the study and again at three, five and eight years using the Modified Mini-Mental State Examination, which consists of a 100-point questionnaire designed to assess cognitive function.

Researchers identified three distinct groups: those who maintained cognitive function (30 percent), those with minor cognitive decline (53 percent) and those with major cognitive decline (16 percent). The study focused on those who maintained cognitive function to determine the psychosocial, health and biological factors associated with successful cognitive aging.

“Not everyone declines, and there are factors that characterize those who don’t decline,” says Fiocco. “And those factors are mostly modifiable in nature.”

The main factors found to be associated with maintaining cognitive function were: age, being white, having at least a high school education, having a ninth-grade or greater literacy level, weekly exercise, and not smoking. On average, this group also was more socially engaged, living with someone and working or volunteering; had a lower body mass index; and drank alcohol in moderation. The researchers suggest that the association between race and cognitive maintenance seen in the study could be related to education and literacy.

Biological factors that have been previously associated with cognitive function, such as glucose levels in the blood and levels of interleukin-6, a protein involved in the body’s inflammatory response, were not statistically significant predictors of cognitive maintenance. Study authors suggest that the impact of the biological factors may have been overpowered by the other factors examined in the study.


*A shorter version of this item appears in the print edition of BrainWork.