Factors Protect Against Cognitive Decline in Women

Among older women, 9 percent maintain optimal cognitive function into old age

FRIDAY, Feb. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Nearly 70 percent of women who are in their early 70s will maintain optimal cognitive function or have a minimal decline over the next 15 years, researchers report in the February issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. A lack of diabetes, smoking and other factors are associated with a greater chance of preserving cognitive function.

Deborah E. Barnes, Ph.D., of the University of California San Francisco, and colleagues studied 9,704 older women and performed a modified Mini-Mental State Examination at baseline and at years six, eight, 10 and 15. The participants' mean age was 72 years at baseline and 85 at the final follow-up.

Nine percent of the women maintained optimal cognitive function, 58 percent experienced minor decline and 33 percent experienced major decline. The factors that were most predictive for cognitive maintenance compared with minor decline were lack of diabetes mellitus (odds ratio, 1.9), lack of hypertension (OR, 1.2), lack of smoking (OR, 1.7), moderate alcohol consumption (OR, 1.2), lack of difficulty with daily activities (OR, 1.4) and a good social network (OR, 1.2).

"Future studies should determine whether cognitive maintainers also experience different outcomes from minor cognitive decliners," the authors conclude. "Just as 'silent' strokes and infarcts are predictive of worse prognosis in older adults, 'minor' cognitive decline may be associated with greater mortality, earlier loss of independence, and worse quality of life than with maintenance of optimal cognitive function."

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