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Sex differences and the role of education in cognitive ageing: analysis of two UK-based prospective cohort studies

Bloomberg, M; Dugravot, A; Dumurgier, J; Kivimaki, M; Fayosse, A; Steptoe, A; Britton, A; ... Sabia, S; + view all (2021) Sex differences and the role of education in cognitive ageing: analysis of two UK-based prospective cohort studies. The Lancet Public Health , 6 (2) e106-e115. 10.1016/S2468-2667(20)30258-9. Green open access

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Abstract

BACKGROUND: Previous studies have shown an excess risk of Alzheimer's disease and related dementias among women. Education is thought to have a causal association with dementia onset. We aimed to investigate the role of education in influencing sex differences in cognitive ageing. METHODS: We analysed data from two prospective cohort studies in the UK; the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) and the Whitehall II study, to assess sex differences in cognitive performance and cognitive decline by birth cohort (birth year 1930-38, 1939-45, or 1946-55), before and after adjustment for education, and by high and low education level. Memory was assessed using immediate recall, for which data were available from all waves of the ELSA (2002-14) and Whitehall II (1997-2015) studies. Fluency was assessed using a semantic fluency test based on an animal naming task, with data available from all waves of the Whitehall II study and waves one to five (2002-10) and wave seven (2014) of the ELSA study. Cognitive scores were standardised separately in each study based on the mean and SD of the corresponding test among participants aged 50-59 years with secondary education. FINDINGS: 15 924 participants were included from the two studies. In pooled analyses, women had better memory scores than men in all birth cohorts, irrespective of adjustment for education (eg, at age 60 years, birth cohort 1930-38, mean difference between sexes [male scores minus female scores] -0·25 SDs [95% CI -0·32 to -0·19] after adjustment for education), and in both education level groups. Memory decline was faster in men than in women (at age 60 years, birth cohort 1946-55, mean difference in 13-year change -0·15 SDs [-0·20 to -0·09]; after adjustment for education -0·14 SDs [-0·20 to -0·08]). Men had better fluency scores than women in earlier birth cohorts and in the low education group (at age 60 years, birth cohort 1930-38, mean difference 0·20 SDs [95% CI 0·05 to 0·36]); but women had better fluency scores than men in later birth cohorts and in the high education group (at age 60 years, birth cohort 1946-55, mean difference -0·17 SDs [-0·24 to -0·10]). No sex differences were observed for fluency decline. INTERPRETATION: Our findings suggest that decreasing disparities between sexes in education, due to secular increases in educational opportunities, could attenuate sex differences in dementia risk and cognitive decline in the future. FUNDING: National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health; UK Medical Research Council; British Heart Foundation; and National Institute for Health Research.

Type: Article
Title: Sex differences and the role of education in cognitive ageing: analysis of two UK-based prospective cohort studies
Location: England
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1016/S2468-2667(20)30258-9
Publisher version: http://doi.org/10.1016/S2468-2667(20)30258-9
Language: English
Additional information: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in the credit line; if the material is not included under the Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission from the license holder to reproduce the material. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Population Health Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Population Health Sciences > Institute of Epidemiology and Health
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Population Health Sciences > Institute of Epidemiology and Health > Behavioural Science and Health
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Population Health Sciences > Institute of Epidemiology and Health > Epidemiology and Public Health
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10121426
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