Cognitive health among older adults in the United States and in England.
© 2009 Langa et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
BACKGROUND: Cognitive function is a key determinant of independence and quality of life among older adults. Compared to adults in England, US adults have a greater prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors and disease that may lead to poorer cognitive function. We compared cognitive performance of older adults in the US and England, and sought to identify sociodemographic and medical factors associated with differences in cognitive function between the two countries. METHODS: Data were from the 2002 waves of the US Health and Retirement Study (HRS) (n = 8,299) and the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) (n = 5,276), nationally representative population-based studies designed to facilitate direct comparisons of health, wealth, and well-being. There were differences in the administration of the HRS and ELSA surveys, including use of both telephone and in-person administration of the HRS compared to only in-person administration of the ELSA, and a significantly higher response rate for the HRS (87% for the HRS vs. 67% for the ELSA). In each country, we assessed cognitive performance in non-hispanic whites aged 65 and over using the same tests of memory and orientation (0 to 24 point scale). RESULTS: US adults scored significantly better than English adults on the 24-point cognitive scale (unadjusted mean: 12.8 vs. 11.4, P < .001; age- and sex-adjusted: 13.2 vs. 11.7, P < .001). The US cognitive advantage was apparent even though US adults had a significantly higher prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors and disease. In a series of OLS regression analyses that controlled for a range of sociodemographic and medical factors, higher levels of education and wealth, and lower levels of depressive symptoms, accounted for some of the US cognitive advantage. US adults were also more likely to be taking medications for hypertension, and hypertension treatment was associated with significantly better cognitive function in the US, but not in England (P = .014 for treatment x country interaction). CONCLUSION: Despite methodological differences in the administration of the surveys in the two countries, US adults aged >/= 65 appeared to be cognitively healthier than English adults, even though they had a higher burden of cardiovascular risk factors and disease. Given the growing number of older adults worldwide, future cross-national studies aimed at identifying the medical and social factors that might prevent or delay cognitive decline in older adults would make important and valuable contributions to public health.
The National Institute on Aging (NIA) provided funding for the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) (U01 AG09740) and the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), data from which were used for this analysis. Several departments of the British government also provided funding for the ELSA. The HRS is performed at the Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan. Dr. Langa was supported by grants from the NIA (K08 AG019180 and R01 AG027010) and a Paul Beeson Physician Faculty Scholars award.
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Vol. 9: 23
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