Cognitive function shows stability of individual differences across the life course, and has a substantial heritable component. Cognitive rank can change with age through environmental influence, especially from sources that are not shared with the rearing family; although the environmental influence that is, shared with siblings attenuates from early childhood to early adulthood. A range of influences on cognitive abilities are currently under investigation by the HALCyon collaboration. In early childhood, for example, associations between neighbourhood socioeconomic status and cognitive development appear to persist at least into midlife; and education is positively associated with adult cognition over and above the influence of cognitive development. HALCyon is also investigating why cognitive development itself influences the rate of cognitive ageing in some circumstances but not others. Cognition continues to be modifiable in adulthood and later life. New HALCyon work so far suggests that certain polymorphisms that regulate genetic repair are not associated with cognitive capability in midlife and beyond, but work is also in progress on endocrine and other biomarkers. There are associations between cognitive functions in older adulthood and health-related behaviours, particularly physical exercise, smoking and dietary choice, but there is also evidence for reverse causation. True causal effects have implications for risk of dementia in later life. While returns to intervention for cognitive and emotional problems are probably greatest when the intervention occurs early, intervention to minimise cognitive decline should also be encouraged at the behavioural level throughout adulthood.
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