Objective

To investigate whether cognitive and physical activities in midlife are associated with reduced risk of dementia and dementia subtypes in women followed for 44 years.

Methods

A population-based sample of 800 women aged 38–54 years (mean age 47 years) was followed from 1968 to 2012. Cognitive (artistic, intellectual, manual, religious, and club) and physical activity were assessed at baseline. During follow-up, dementia (n = 194), Alzheimer disease (n = 102), vascular dementia (n = 27), mixed dementia (n = 41), and dementia with cerebrovascular disease (n = 81) were diagnosed according to established criteria based on information from neuropsychiatric examinations, informant interviews, hospital records, and registry data. Cox regression models were used with adjustment for age, education, socioeconomic status, hypertension, body mass index, cigarette smoking, diabetes mellitus, angina pectoris, stress, and major depression.

Results

We found that cognitive activity in midlife was associated with a reduced risk of total dementia (hazard ratio [HR] 0.66; 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.49–0.89) and Alzheimer disease (HR 0.54; 95% CI 0.36–0.82) during follow-up. Physical activity in midlife was associated with a reduced risk of mixed dementia (HR 0.43; 95% CI 0.22–0.86) and dementia with cerebrovascular disease (HR 0.47; 95% CI 0.28–0.78). The results were similar after excluding those who developed dementia before 1990 (n = 21), except that physical activity was then also associated with reduced risk of total dementia (HR 0.67; 95% CI 0.46–0.99).

Conclusion

Our findings suggests that midlife cognitive and physical activities are independently associated with reduced risk of dementia and dementia subtypes. The results indicate that these midlife activities may have a role in preserving cognitive health in old age.

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