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Healthy behavior and memory self-reports in young, middle-aged, and older adults

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 February 2013

Gary W. Small*
Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences and Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, UCLA Longevity Center, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, USA
Prabha Siddarth
Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences and Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, UCLA Longevity Center, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, USA
Linda M. Ercoli
Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences and Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, UCLA Longevity Center, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, USA
Stephen T. Chen
Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences and Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, UCLA Longevity Center, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, USA
David A. Merrill
Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences and Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, UCLA Longevity Center, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, USA
Fernando Torres-Gil
Department of Public Policy, UCLA School of Public Affairs, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, USA
Correspondence should be addressed to: Gary W. Small, Semel Institute, Suite 38-251, 760 Westwood Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90024. Phone: +1 310-825-0291; Fax: +1 310-825-3910. Email:


Background: Previous research has shown that healthy behaviors, such as regular physical exercise, a nutritious diet, and not smoking, are associated with a lower risk for Alzheimer's disease and dementia. However, less is known about the potential link between healthy behaviors and mild memory symptoms that may precede dementia in different age groups.

Methods: A daily telephone survey (Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index) of US residents yielded a random sample of 18,552 respondents ranging in age from 18 to 99 years, including 4,423 younger (age 18–39 years), 6,356 middle-aged (40–59 years), and 7,773 older (60–99 years) adults. The questionnaire included demographic information and the Healthy Behavior Index (questions on smoking, eating habits, and frequency of exercise). General linear models and logistic regressions were used in the analysis.

Results: Older adults were more likely to report healthy behaviors than were middle-aged and younger adults. Reports of memory problems increased with age (14% of younger, 22% of middle-aged, and 26% of older adults) and were inversely related to the Healthy Behavior Index. Reports of healthy eating were associated with better memory self-reports regardless of age, while not smoking was associated with better memory reports in the younger and middle-aged and reported regular exercise with better memory in the middle-aged and older groups.

Conclusions: These findings indicate a relationship between reports of healthy behaviors and better self-perceived memory abilities throughout adult life, suggesting that lifestyle behavior habits may protect brain health and possibly delay the onset of memory symptoms as people age.

Research Article
Copyright © International Psychogeriatric Association 2013

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