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The dynamic relationship between cognitive function and positive well-being in older people: A prospective study using the English Longitudinal Study of Aging

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    Rights statement: This article has been published under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Copyright for this article is retained by the author(s). Author(s) grant(s) the American Psychological Association the exclusive right to publish the article and identify itself as the original publisher.

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)306-318
Number of pages13
JournalPsychology and Aging
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2014


There is evidence that having a stronger sense of positive well-being may be a potential resource for healthier aging as represented by slower physical decline, reduced risk of frailty and longer survival. However, it is unclear whether positive well-being is protective of another crucial component of healthy aging, cognitive function, or whether it has a bidirectional relationship with cognitive function. We use multilevel models with within-person centering to estimate the within- and between-person association between cognitive function and positive well-being in 4 waves of data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), (N = 10985, aged 50–90 years at wave 1). Our findings show that, although most variation in cognitive function was explained by age, and most variation in well-being was explained by depression, small but significant associations between cognition and well-being remained after variation in age and depression were controlled. In models where cognition was the outcome, the association was mainly because of variation in mean levels of well-being between persons. In models where well-being was the outcome, the association was mainly because of within-person fluctuation in cognitive test performance. Exercise and depression were the most important moderating influences on the association between cognition and positive well-being. Depression had greater effect upon this association for those with higher well-being, but exercise protected cognitive performance against the adverse effects of lower well-being.

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