Do Cognitive and Physical Functions Age in Concert from Age 70 to 76?: Evidence from the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936
The present study concerns the relation of mental and bodily characteristics to one another during ageing. The ‘common cause’ theory of ageing proposes that declines are shared across multiple, seemingly-disparate functions, including both physical and intellectual abilities. The concept of ‘reserve’ suggests that healthier cognitive (and perhaps bodily) functions from early in life are protective against the effects of senescence across multiple domains. In three waves of physical and cognitive testing data from the longitudinal Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 (n = 1,091 at age 70 years; n = 866 at 73; n = 697 at 76), we used multivariate growth curve modeling to test the ‘common cause’ and ‘reserve’ hypotheses. Support for both concepts was mixed: although levels of physical functions and cognitive functions were correlated with one another, physical functions did not decline together, and there was little evidence for shared declines in physical and mental functions. Early-life intelligence, a potential marker of system integrity, made a significant prediction of the levels, but not the slopes, of later life physical functions. These data suggest that common causes, which are likely present within cognitive functions, are not as far-reaching beyond the cognitive arena as has previously been suggested. They also imply that bodily reserve may be similar to cognitive reserve in that it affects the level, but not the slope, of ageing-related declines.