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The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12889-015-2426-6) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
All authors (REM, CPL, HA, CB, FEM, JFD, HJG) contributed to the concept and design of the study. REM performed the statistical analyses and drafted the manuscript. REM, CPL, and HJG interpreted the data. All authors (REM, CPL, HA, CB, FEM, JFD, HJG) helped draft the manuscript, and read and approved the final version.
Identifying modifiable lifestyle correlates of cognitive decline and risk of dementia is complex, particularly as few population-based longitudinal studies jointly model these interlinked processes. Recent methodological developments allow us to examine statistically defined sub-populations with separate cognitive trajectories and dementia risks.
Engagement in social, physical, or intellectual pursuits, social network size, self-perception of feeling well understood, and degree of satisfaction with social relationships were assessed in 2854 participants from the Paquid cohort (mean baseline age 77 years) and related to incident dementia and cognitive change over 20-years of follow-up. Multivariate repeated cognitive information was exploited by defining the global cognitive functioning as the latent common factor underlying the tests. In addition, three latent homogeneous sub-populations of cognitive change and dementia were identified and contrasted according to social environment variables.
In the whole population, we found associations between increased engagement in social, physical, or intellectual pursuits and increased cognitive ability (but not decline) and decreased risk of incident dementia, and between feeling understood and slower cognitive decline. There was evidence for three sub-populations of cognitive aging: fast, medium, and no cognitive decline. The social-environment measures at baseline did not help explain the heterogeneity of cognitive decline and incident dementia diagnosis between these sub-populations.
We observed a complex series of relationships between social-environment variables and cognitive decline and dementia. In the whole population, factors such as increased engagement in social, physical, or intellectual pursuits were related to a decreased risk of dementia. However, in a sub-population analysis, the social-environment variables were not linked to the heterogeneous patterns of cognitive decline and dementia risk that defined the sub-groups.