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Journal of Aging Research
Volume 2012, Article ID 461592, 12 pages
Research Article

Cognitively Stimulating Activities: Effects on Cognition across Four Studies with up to 21 Years of Longitudinal Data

1Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital, Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, 200 Springs Road, Bedford, MA 01730, USA
2Departments of Psychology and Department of Neurology, University of South Florida, 4202 E. Fowler Avenue, Tampa, FL 33620, USA
3Center for Biomedical Imaging, Medical University of South Carolina, 68 President Street, MSC 120, Charleston, SC 29425, USA
4Department of Psychology, University of Victoria, P.O. Box 3050 STN CSC, Victoria, BC, Canada V8W 3P5
5Division of General Internal Medicine, University of Washington, P.O. Box 359780, Harborview Medical Center, 325 Ninth Avenue Seattle, WA 98104, USA
6Department of Psychology, California State University-Los Angeles 5151 State University Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90032, USA
7Department of Food and Nutrition, and Sport Science, Department of Psychology, University of Gothenburg, P.O. Box 100, SE-405 30 Gothenburg, Sweden
8Department of Psychology, University of Gothenburg, Box 500, SE 405 30, Gothenburg, Sweden
9Ethel Percy Andrus Gerontology Center, Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0191, USA
10University of Washington, 180 Nickerson, Suite 206, Seattle, WA 98109, USA
11Department of Psychology, University of Alberta, P217 Biological Sciences Building, Edmonton, AB, Canada T6G 2E9
12Lawrence J. Ellison Ambulatory Care Center, University of California, Davis, 4860 Y Street, Ste 0100, Sacramento, CA 95817, USA

Received 2 April 2012; Revised 27 June 2012; Accepted 24 July 2012

Academic Editor: Allison A. M. Bielak

Copyright © 2012 Meghan B. Mitchell et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


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.