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Education Does Not Slow Cognitive Decline with Aging: 12-Year Evidence from the Victoria Longitudinal Study

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 September 2011

Laura B. Zahodne*
Department of Clinical & Health Psychology, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida
M. Maria Glymour
Department of Society, Human Development, and Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts
Catharine Sparks
Department of Psychology, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia
Daniel Bontempo
Center for Biobehavioral Neurosciences in Communication Disorders, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas
Roger A. Dixon
Department of Psychology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta
Stuart W.S. MacDonald
Department of Psychology, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia
Jennifer J. Manly
Gertrude H. Sergievsky Center, Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer's Disease and The Aging Brain, and Department of Neurology, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, New York
Correspondence and reprint requests to: Laura B. Zahodne, Department of Clinical & Health Psychology, University of Florida, PO Box 100165, Gainesville, Florida 32610. E-mail:


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. (JINS, 2011, 17, 1039–1046)

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Copyright © The International Neuropsychological Society 2011

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