Comparing Age Effects in Normally and Extremely Highly Educated and Intellectually Engaged 65 - 80 Year-olds: Potential Protection from Deficit Through Educational and Intellectual Activities Across the Lifespan
Education and cognitive activity have been suggested to protect against cognitive decline in old age. However, little is known about the long-term effects of extremely high levels of education and intellectual activity across the lifespan. The present study investigated the extent to which these two variables may moderate the age-related differences in cognitive performance in old adults. Therefore, story recall, paired-associates learning, reading span and letter digit performance of 62 university professors (mean age = 72.47) were compared with those of a representative sample of 196 participants of the Zurich Longitudinal Study of Cognitive Aging (mean age = 73.04). The results demonstrate that the highly educated sample performed significantly better than the normally educated sample in the paired-associates learning and reading span test. Furthermore, age effects were found in the letter digit as well as in the paired-associates learning test. While the normally educated sample demonstrated an age-related decrease in the paired-associates learning test, the performance of the highly educated sample actually increased with increasing age. These findings suggest that extremely high levels of education and intellectual activity may postpone age-related deficits in paired-associates learning tasks, but not in speed of processing tasks.
Keywords: Education, protection factor, cognitive performance, typical intellectual engagement
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