Childhood infectious diseases and old age cognitive functioning: A nationally representative sample of community-dwelling older adults

A. Rotstein, S. Z. Levine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: Cumulative evidence suggests that health-related risk factors during midlife and old-age are associated with cognitive impairment. However, studies are needed to clarify the association between early-life risk factors and impaired cognitive functioning to increment existing knowledge. Objective: To examine the association between childhood infectious diseases and late-life cognitive functioning in a nationally representative sample of older adults. Participants: Eligible respondents were 2994 community-dwelling individuals aged 65-85. Measurements: Cognitive functioning was assessed using the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE). Childhood infectious diseases (i.e. chicken pox, measles, and mumps) were self-reported. The study covariates were age, sex, highest educational level achieved, smoking status, body mass index, and depression. The primary statistical analysis examined the association between the number of childhood infectious diseases and total MMSE scores, accounting for all study covariates. Regression models of progressive complexity were examined for parsimony. The robustness of the primary results was tested in 17 sensitivity analyses. Results: The most parsimonious model was a linear adjusted model (Bayesian Information Criterion = 12646.09). Late-life cognitive functioning significantly improved as the number of childhood infectious diseases increased (β = 0.18; 95% CI = 0.11, 0.26; p < 0.001). This effect was not significantly attenuated in all sensitivity analyses. Conclusion: The current study results are consistent with prior ecological findings indicating that some childhood infectious diseases are associated with better cognitive functioning in old-age. This points to an early-life modifiable risk factor associated with older-life cognitive functioning. Our results may reflect selective mortality and/or beneficial effects via hormetic processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-82
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Psychogeriatrics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 International Psychogeriatric Association.


  • childhood illness
  • cognition
  • epidemiology


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