Recent research from UNSW Ageing Futures Institute and Neuroscience Research Australia investigators have highlighted significant gender differences in how cognitive resilience factors influence the risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI). 

MCI is a condition that affects an individual’s memory and thinking compared to other people their age. In Australia is estimated that those living with MCI is at least twice as common as those living with dementia – however people living with MCI have an increased risk of developing dementia. In addition to ageing, chronic conditions and other lifestyle factors may increase the risk of developing MCI.

The purpose of the following study was to highlight how various factors contribute to cognitive health differences for men and women as people age. The study examined 1,806 participants aged 60 to 66 from the Personality and Total Health (PATH) through life project, and looked at the impact of factors such as educational attainment, occupational skill, verbal intelligence, and leisure activities on MCI risk. Researchers conducted discrete-time survival analyses – adjusting for age and Apolipoprotein E4 status (a gene that increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease) – to assess these associations.

A major finding revealed that lower occupational skill was more strongly linked to a higher MCI risk in men than in women. This gender-specific association underscores the importance of considering occupational experiences when addressing cognitive health risks.

“In both men and women, increased leisure activity emerged as a protective factor against MCI. A one standard deviation increase in leisure activity was associated with a 32% reduction in MCI risk. Additionally, higher verbal intelligence scores were linked to a 28% lower risk of MCI, highlighting the protective role of cognitive and intellectual engagement.” says Dr Yvonne Leung, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the UNSW School of Psychology.

“While education and occupation are important, engaging in cognitively stimulating leisure activities, such as solving puzzles, playing a musical instrument, or even gardening play a critical role in protecting against MCI for both genders. These findings suggest targeted interventions focusing on cognitive engagement activities could be beneficial in reducing MCI risk across genders.”

Read the full publication here (