Cognitively stimulating activities: Effects on cognition across four studies with up to 21 years of longitudinal data

Meghan B. Mitchell, Cynthia R. Cimino, Andreana Benitez, Cassandra L. Brown, Laura E. Gibbons, Robert F. Kennison, Steven D. Shirk, Alireza Atri, Annie Robitaille, Stuart W.S. MacDonald, Magnus Lindwall, Elizabeth M. Zelinski, Sherry L. Willis, K. Warner Schaie, Boo Johansson, Roger A. Dixon, Dan M. Mungas, Scott M. Hofer, Andrea M. Piccinin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


Engagement in cognitively stimulating activities has been considered to maintain or strengthen cognitive skills, thereby minimizing age-related cognitive decline. While the idea that there may be a modifiable behavior that could lower risk for cognitive decline is appealing and potentially empowering for older adults, research findings have not consistently supported the beneficial effects of engaging in cognitively stimulating tasks. Using observational studies of naturalistic cognitive activities, we report a series of mixed effects models that include baseline and change in cognitive activity predicting cognitive outcomes over up to 21 years in four longitudinal studies of aging. Consistent evidence was found for cross-sectional relationships between level of cognitive activity and cognitive test performance. Baseline activity at an earlier age did not, however, predict rate of decline later in life, thus not supporting the concept that engaging in cognitive activity at an earlier point in time increases one's ability to mitigate future age-related cognitive decline. In contrast, change in activity was associated with relative change in cognitive performance. Results therefore suggest that change in cognitive activity from one's previous level has at least a transitory association with cognitive performance measured at the same point in time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number461592
JournalJournal of Aging Research
StatePublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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