Indicators of childhood quality of education in relation to cognitive function in older adulthood

Academic Article

Abstract

  • Background.The association between years of education and cognitive function in older adults has been studied extensively, but the role of quality of education is unknown. We examined indicators of childhood educational quality as predictors of cognitive performance and decline in later life.Methods.Participants included 433 older adults (52% African American) who reported living in Alabama during childhood and completed in-home assessments of cognitive function at baseline and 4 years later. Reports of residence during school years were matched to county-level data from the 1935 Alabama Department of Education report for school funding (per student), student-teacher ratio, and school year length. A composite measure of global cognitive function was utilized in analyses. Multilevel mixed effects models accounted for clustering of educational data within counties in examining the association between cognitive function and the educational quality indices.Results.Higher student-teacher ratio was associated with worse cognitive function and greater school year length was associated with better cognitive function. These associations remained statistically significant in models adjusted for education level, age, race, gender, income, reading ability, vascular risk factors, and health behaviors. The observed associations were stronger in those with lower levels of education (≤12 years), but none of the education quality measures were related to 4-year change in cognitive function.Conclusions.Educational factors other than years of schooling may influence cognitive performance in later life. Understanding the role of education in cognitive aging has substantial implications for prevention efforts as well as accurate identification of older adults with cognitive impairment. © 2012 The Author. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Gerontological Society of America. All rights reserved.
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    Author List

  • Crowe M; Clay OJ; Martin RC; Howard VJ; Wadley VG; Sawyer P; Allman RM
  • Start Page

  • 198
  • End Page

  • 204
  • Volume

  • 68
  • Issue

  • 2