To test if the Finnish Defence Forces Basic Intellectual Ability Test scores at 20.1 years predicted risk of organic dementia or Alzheimer disease (AD).
Dementia was defined as inpatient or outpatient diagnosis of organic dementia or AD risk derived from Hospital Discharge or Causes of Death Registers in 2,785 men from the Helsinki Birth Cohort Study, divided based on age at first diagnosis into early onset (<65 years) or late onset (≥65 years). The Finnish Defence Forces Basic Intellectual Ability Test comprises verbal, arithmetic, and visuospatial subtests and a total score (scores transformed into a mean of 100 and SD of 15). We used Cox proportional hazard models and adjusted for age at testing, childhood socioeconomic status, mother’s age at delivery, parity, participant’s birthweight, education, and stroke or coronary heart disease diagnosis.
Lower cognitive ability total and verbal ability (hazard ratio [HR] per 1 SD disadvantage >1.69, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.01–2.63) scores predicted higher early-onset any dementia risk across the statistical models; arithmetic and visuospatial ability scores were similarly associated with early-onset any dementia risk, but these associations weakened after covariate adjustments (HR per 1 SD disadvantage >1.57, 95% CI 0.96–2.57). All associations were rendered nonsignificant when we adjusted for participant’s education. Cognitive ability did not predict late-onset dementia risk.
These findings reinforce previous suggestions that lower cognitive ability in early life is a risk factor for early-onset dementia.