Early life origins cognitive decline: findings in elderly men in the helsinki birth cohort study.
To examine whether the adverse effects of slow prenatal and postnatal growth on cognitive function persist to old age and predict age related cognitive decline. A longitudinal birth cohort study of men born in Helsinki, Finland 1934-44. Nine-hundred-thirty-one men of the Helsinki Birth Cohort Study, with detailed data on growth from birth to adulthood, aged 20.1 (SD = 1.4) at the first and 67.9 (SD = 2.5) years at the second cognitive testing. The Finnish Defense Forces Basic Intellectual Ability Test assessed twice over nearly five decades apart. Lower weight, length and head circumference at birth were associated with lower cognitive ability at 67.9 years (1.04-1.55 points lower ability per each standard deviation [SD] unit decrease in body size, 95% Confidence Interval [95%CI]: 0.05 to 2.72) and with cognitive decline after 20.1 years (0.07-0.11 SD decline over time per each SD decrease in body size, 95%CI:0.00 to 0.19). Men who were born larger were more likely to perform better in the cognitive ability test over time (1.22-1.43 increase in odds to remain in the top relative to the lower two thirds in ability over time per each SD increase in body size, 95%CI:1.04 to 1.79) and were more resilient to cognitive decline after 20.1 years (0.69 to 0.76 decrease in odds to decline from than remain in the top third of ability over time per each SD increase in body size, 95%CI:0.49 to 0.99). Slower growth between birth and two years in weight, height and body mass index was associated with lower cognitive ability at 67.9 years, but not with cognitive decline. Poorer lifetime cognitive ability is predicted by slower growth before and after birth. In predicting resilience to age related cognitive decline, the period before birth seems to be more critical.