Education, Activity Engagement, and Cognitive Function in US Chinese Older Adults

Wei Zhang, Fengyan Tang, Yiwei Chen, Merril Silverstein, Sizhe Liu, Xin Qi Dong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVES: To examine whether and how early-life experiences such as years of schooling affect late-life cognitive function through a pathway of activity engagement. DESIGN: Prospective. SETTING: We used data from 2 waves of the Population Study of Chinese Elderly in Chicago (PINE). PARTICIPANTS: PINE is the largest population-based epidemiological study of Chinese-American adults aged 60 and older in the greater Chicago area. Wave 1 data were collected for 2 years, from July 2011 to June 2013, and Wave 2 data were collected from 2013 to 2015; total sample size was 2,713. MEASUREMENTS: Education was measured in years of schooling. Activity engagement was assessed using 15 items grouped into two clusters: cognitive activity and social activity. Cognitive function was evaluated using five instruments to assess general mental status (Chinese Mini-Mental State Examination (C-MMSE)), episodic memory, perceptual speed, working memory, global cognition score. RESULTS: Adjusting for sociodemographic and health-related control variables, education measured at Wave 1 was associated with better global cognition (b = 0.025, p <.001), C-MMSE (b =.037, p <.001), episodic memory (b =.026, p <.001), Symbol Digit Modalities Test perceptual speed (b =.036, p <.001), and Digit Span Backward working memory (b =.047, p <.001) at Wave 2. Activity engagement, cognitive activity in particular, significantly mediates the effect of education on all cognitive tests, with the size of the mediating effect ranging from 16% to approximately 24%. CONCLUSION: Amount of schooling early in life is significantly related to late-life cognitive function in virtually all domains, and cognitive activity is one of many links between the two. J Am Geriatr Soc 67:S525–S531, 2019.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S525-S531
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
StatePublished - 2019


  • Chinese older adults
  • activity engagement
  • cognitive function
  • education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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