Life course engagement in enriching activities: When and how does it matter for cognitive aging?
Growing evidence suggests that participation in enriching activities (physical, social, and mental) across the life course is beneficial for cognitive functioning in older age. However, few studies have examined the effects of enrichment across the entire life course within the same participants. Using 2,931 participants in the Health and Retirement Study, we linked self-report data from later life and retrospective self-report data from early life and midlife to cognitive performance after Age 65. We categorized participants as having either high (top ∼25%) or average to low (bottom ∼75%) level of enrichment during each life period. Thus, eight groups were identified that reflected unique patterns of enrichment during early, mid, and later life (e.g., high-high-high). Using growth curve modeling, we found that life course enrichment patterns predicted both cognitive functioning and the rate of cognitive decline across five time points spanning 8 years (Aim 1). Groups with high enrichment during at least one life period had higher performance and slower decline in older age, compared to those who had average to low levels of enrichment throughout all three life periods. We also found that high enrichment during each life period independently predicted better cognitive performance and that high enrichment during early and later life also predicted slower cognitive decline (Aim 2). These findings support the idea that high enrichment is beneficial for cognition in later life and that the effects are long-lasting, even when individuals are inconsistent in enrichment engagement throughout the entire life course. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2023 APA, all rights reserved).