The impact of productive and leisure activities on cognitive health in later life
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BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Cognitive decline in old age brings challenges such as economic and caregiving burden, loss of independence, and other health consequences (Alzheimer’s Association, 2018). The productive aging literature has advanced a number of ideas about how to stay healthy in later life (Hooyman & Kiyak, 2018; Morrow-Howell, Gonzales, Matz-Costa, & Greenfield, 2015). However, existing literature has: tended to focus on productive and leisure activities during limited spans of time; not explored how the productive/leisure activity–cognitive health relationship differs by the social determinants of health such as gender or race/ethnicity; and has not considered how these activities are collectively associated with cognition among older adults in the United States. Thus, using longitudinal data from a national cohort of older adults, this dissertation focuses on the following research questions: (1) Are the previous and ongoing cognitive, physical, and social complexities of work associated with cognitive health in later life? (2-a) Are the ongoing cognitive, physical, and social complexities of work and volunteering associated with cognitive health in later life? (2-b) Are the ongoing cognitive, physical, and social complexities of work, volunteering, and leisure activities associated with cognitive health in later life? For each question, the dissertation will explore whether associations vary by key social determinants of health. RESEARCH DESIGN: Using a nationally representative sample of older adults (51+) in the Health and Retirement Study (HRS; 2004–2014), growth curve modeling is applied. The samples for research questions 1, 2-a, and 2-b include the following respondents, respectively: the Early Baby Boomer cohort, the HRS core survey respondents, and the HRS core respondents who provided information on leisure activity in the HRS Consumption and Activities Mail Survey (CAMS). CONTRIBUTIONS: Consistent with the Social Work Grand Challenge of advancing long and productive lives by focusing on cognitive aging, this study provides insight into cognitive aging research, interventions, and policy from a behavioral and social science perspective. Overall, this study adds to the discussion about policies and services to support older adults in maintaining active lifestyles and to promote healthy cognitive aging among older adults in the United States.