Influence of schooling and age on cognitive performance in healthy older adults

Few studies have examined the influence of a low level of schooling on age-related cognitive decline in countries with wide social and economic inequalities by using the Cambridge Automated Neuropsychological Test Battery (CANTAB). The aim of the present study was to assess the influence of schooling on age-related cognitive decline using unbiased cognitive tests. CANTAB allows cognitive assessment across cultures and education levels with reduced interference of the examiner during data acquisition. Using two-way ANOVA, we assessed the influences of age and education on test scores of old adults (61–84 years of age). CANTAB tests included: Visual Sustained Attention, Reaction Time, Spatial Working Memory, Learning and Episodic Memory. All subjects had a minimum visual acuity of 20/30 (Snellen Test), no previous or current history of traumatic brain/head trauma, stroke, language impairment, chronic alcoholism, neurological diseases, memory problems or depressive symptoms, and normal scores on the Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE). Subjects were grouped according to education level (1 to 7 and ≥8 years of schooling) and age (60–69 and ≥70 years). Low schooling level was associated with significantly lower performance on visual sustained attention, learning and episodic memory, reaction time, and spatial working memory. Although reaction time was influenced by age, no significant results on post hoc analysis were detected. Our findings showed a significantly worse cognitive performance in volunteers with lower levels of schooling and suggested that formal education in early life must be included in the preventive public health agenda. In addition, we suggest that CANTAB may be useful to detect subtle cognitive changes in healthy aging.