Cognitive function in childhood and lifetime cognitive change in relation to mental wellbeing in four cohorts of older people

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Abstract

© 2012 Gale et al. Background: Poorer cognitive ability in youth is a risk factor for later mental health problems but it is largely unknown whether cognitive ability, in youth or in later life, is predictive of mental wellbeing. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether cognitive ability at age 11 years, cognitive ability in later life, or lifetime cognitive change are associated with mental wellbeing in older people.Results: People whose cognitive ability at age 11 was a standard deviation above the mean scored 0.53 points higher on the mental wellbeing scale (95% confidence interval 0.36, 0.71). The equivalent value for cognitive ability in later life was 0.89 points (0.72, 1.07). A standard deviation improvement in cognitive ability in later life relative to childhood ability was associated with 0.66 points (0.39, 0.93) advantage in wellbeing score. These effect sizes equate to around 0.1 of a standard deviation in mental wellbeing score. Adjustment for potential confounding and mediating variables, primarily the personality trait neuroticism, substantially attenuated these associations.Conclusion: Associations between cognitive ability in childhood or lifetime cognitive change and mental wellbeing in older people are slight and may be confounded by personality trait differences.Methods: We used data on 8191 men and women aged 50 to 87 years from four cohorts in the HALCyon collaborative research programme into healthy ageing: the Aberdeen Birth Cohort 1936, the Lothian Birth Cohort 1921, the National Child Development Survey, and the MRC National Survey for Health and Development. We used linear regression to examine associations between cognitive ability at age 11, cognitive ability in later life, and lifetime change in cognitive ability and mean score on the Warwick Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale and meta-analysis to obtain an overall estimate of the effect of each.

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Gale, C. R., Cooper, R., Craig, L., Elliott, J., Kuh, D., Richards, M., … Deary, I. J. (2012). Cognitive function in childhood and lifetime cognitive change in relation to mental wellbeing in four cohorts of older people. PLoS ONE, 7(9). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0044860

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