Life experiences with intellectual stimulation may have more impact than demographic influences on cognitive abilities in older adults, researchers find.

In the study, “Life Experiences and Demographic Influences on Cognitive Function in Older Adults,” researchers measured the cognitive function more than 300 older adults who spoke either English or Spanish and had different education, cognitive and ethnic backgrounds.

Results showed that life experiences, particularly the development of literacy, “substantially attenuated effects of race, ethnicity and education,” the researchers noted. Age, physical activity and recreational activity also significantly impacted cognitive ability, they added.

“…Specific life experiences like level of reading attainment and intellectually stimulating activities are predictive of the rate of late-life cognitive decline. This suggests that intellectual stimulation throughout the life span can reduce cognitive decline in old age,” Dan Mungas, Ph.D., professor of neurology and associate director of the UC Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, told UC Davis Health System.

The participants were recruited from various senior living residences, social centers, churches and healthcare settings. They were at least 60 years old and were Caucasian, African American or Hispanic.

The researchers are at the University of UC Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Center and the University of Victoria, Canada.

Results appeared in Neuropsychology.