Education does not slow cognitive decline with aging: 12-year evidence from the victoria longitudinal study

Laura B. Zahodne, M. Maria Glymour, Catharine Sparks, Daniel Bontempo, Roger A. Dixon, Stuart W.S. MacDonald, Jennifer J. Manly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

192 Scopus citations


Although the relationship between education and cognitive status is well-known, evidence regarding whether education moderates the trajectory of cognitive change in late life is conflicting. Early studies suggested that higher levels of education attenuate cognitive decline. More recent studies using improved longitudinal methods have not found that education moderates decline. Fewer studies have explored whether education exerts different effects on longitudinal changes within different cognitive domains. In the present study, we analyzed data from 1014 participants in the Victoria Longitudinal Study to examine the effects of education on composite scores reflecting verbal processing speed, working memory, verbal fluency, and verbal episodic memory. Using linear growth models adjusted for age at enrollment (range, 54-95 years) and gender, we found that years of education (range, 6-20 years) was strongly related to cognitive level in all domains, particularly verbal fluency. However, education was not related to rates of change over time for any cognitive domain. Results were similar in individuals older or younger than 70 at baseline, and when education was dichotomized to reflect high or low attainment. In this large longitudinal cohort, education was related to cognitive performance but unrelated to cognitive decline, supporting the hypothesis of passive cognitive reserve with aging.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1039-1046
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the International Neuropsychological Society
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2011


  • Cognitive reserve
  • Language
  • Memory
  • Mental recall
  • Reaction time
  • Short term


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