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Gender Differences in the Association Between Leisure Activity in Adulthood and Cognitive Function in Old Age: A Prospective Longitudinal Population-Based Study

Journal article
Authors Linda Hassing
Published in The journals of gerontology. Series B, Psychological sciences and social sciences
Volume 75
Issue 1
Pages 11–20
ISSN 1079-5014
Publication year 2020
Published at Department of Psychology
Centre for Ageing and Health (Agecap)
Pages 11–20
Language en
Keywords Cognitive aging, Cognitive reserve, Lifecourse approach
Subject categories Cognitive science


Objectives To examine the long-term association between leisure activities in adulthood and cognitive function in old age while recognizing gender differences in activity profiles. Methods The sample included 340 cognitively healthy twins enrolled in the OCTO-Twin Study, a longitudinal study on cognitive aging. Leisure activity was measured in midlife and cognitive function in old age (mean age 83). Leisure activities covered the domains of domestic, intellectual–cultural, and self-improvement activities. The cognitive assessments comprised 5 measurement occasions (2-year intervals) covering verbal ability, spatial ability, memory, and speed. The association between leisure activity and cognitive function was estimated separately for the genders using growth curve models, adjusting for age and education. Results Men and women had the same level of total leisure activity but differed in activity profiles and in the associations between activity and cognitive function. Higher engagement in self-improvement among men was related to higher level of cognitive functioning. Among women, intellectual–cultural activity was related to better verbal ability and memory. Concerning trajectories of cognitive function, domestic activity among men was related to less decline in speed, whereas for women it was related to steeper decline in spatial ability and memory. Further, higher intellectual–cultural activity among women was related to steeper decline in memory. Discussion Cognitively stimulating activities (i.e., self-improvement and intellectual–cultural), might increase cognitive reserve whereas less cognitively stimulating activities (i.e., domestic) do not. Gender differences should be considered when examining lifestyle factors in relation to cognitive aging.

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