Growing evidence suggests that structural and functional brain reserves, thought to develop in childhood and adolescence, may be crucial in determining when cognitive impairment begins. The purpose of this report is to examine the relationship of height, as a marker of childhood development, to late-life cognitive function in a sample of elderly Japanese-American men.
Cognitive performance was assessed from 1991 to 1993 in the Honolulu–Asia Aging Study in 3733 men aged 71 to 93 years and related to height that was measured 25 years earlier.
Among the study sample, shorter men were older, leaner, and less educated than taller men. Shorter men also spent more years of their childhood living in Japan and were more likely to have had fathers in unskilled professions. After adjustment for age, the prevalence of poor cognitive performance declined consistently with increasing height from 25% in men shorter than 154 cm (61 in) to 9% in those taller than 174 cm (69 in). Excluding men with stroke or dementia did not alter the association between height and cognitive performance. Apolipoprotein E4 was unrelated to height and did not effect the association between height and cognitive function. The prevalence of Alzheimer's disease was higher in men who were 154 cm (61 in) or shorter as compared with men who were taller (4.7% vs 2.9%, respectively). There was no association between height and vascular dementia.
Efforts to improve prenatal and early life conditions to maximize growth in childhood and adolescence could diminish or delay the expression of cognitive impairments that occur later in life. Prevention of some late-life cognitive impairments may have pediatric origins.