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Associations of word memory, verbal fluency, processing speed and crystallised cognitive ability with one-legged balance performance in mid and later life

Blodgett, Joanna and Cooper, Rachel and Davis, Daniel JH and Kuh, Diana and Hardy, Rebecca (2021) Associations of word memory, verbal fluency, processing speed and crystallised cognitive ability with one-legged balance performance in mid and later life. Journal of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences. ISSN 1079-5006

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Abstract

Background Cognitive integration of sensory input and motor output plays an important role in balance. Despite this, it is not clear if specific cognitive processes are associated with balance and how these associations change with age. We examined longitudinal associations of word memory, verbal fluency, search speed and reading ability with repeated measures of one-legged balance performance. Methods Up to 2934 participants in the MRC National Survey of Health and Development, a British birth cohort study, were included. At age 53, word memory, verbal fluency, search speed and reading ability were assessed. One-legged balance times (eyes closed) were measured at ages 53, 60-64 and 69 years. Associations between each cognitive measure and balance time were assessed using random-effects models. Adjustments were made for sex, death, attrition, height, body mass index, health conditions, health behaviours, education, and occupational class. Results In sex-adjusted models, one SD higher scores in word memory, search speed and verbal fluency were associated with 14.1% (95%CI: 11.3,16.8), 7.2% (4.4,9.9) and 10.3% (7.5,13.0) better balance times at age 53, respectively. Higher reading scores were associated with better balance, although this association plateaued. Associations were partially attenuated in mutually-adjusted models and effect sizes were smaller at ages 60-64 and 69. In fully-adjusted models, associations were largely explained by education, although remained for word memory and search speed. Conclusions Higher cognitive performance across all measures was independently associated with better balance performance in midlife. Identification of individual cognitive mechanisms involved in balance could lead to opportunities for targeted interventions in midlife.

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