Area 1: Social & economic influences on cognitive function during aging

South Africa is undergoing rapid population aging, while being a country with extreme social inequalities in health outcomes. A key data source for research in this area is “Health and Aging in Africa: A Longitudinal Study of an INDEPTH Community in South Africa” (HAALSI), a population-based study of over 5,000 men and women aged 40+ living in a former Apartheid-era ‘homeland’ area of forced segregation for black South Africans. Current research investigates the relationships of early-life socioeconomic conditions, health, and education with later-life cognitive function among the HAALSI study participants.

Education is a key determinant of cognitive health in later life. Less is known about how cognitive health in later life may be shaped by mid-life experiences. Current research uses data from the U.S. Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) to investigate mid-life trajectories of employment and later-life performance on assessments of literacy, numeracy, and verbal reasoning. A focus is on understanding the racial and gender-based disparities that were observed in performance on these tests, which were wider than those observed for tests of ‘fluid’ cognitive domains such as short-term memory and executive function. This project is funded by a U.S. National Institute of Aging sub-grant (sub-P01AG029409 PI: Kobayashi).

Area 2: Cancer-preventive health behaviors in older adults

Cancer-preventive health behaviors, such as screening and aspects of lifestyle, become particularly important during aging as physical health risks increase. At the same, social isolation becomes more common and cognitive and health literacy skills decline during aging. Current research uses data from “Health and Aging in Africa: A Longitudinal Study of an INDEPTH Community in South Africa” (HAALSI), the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) and the Attitudes and Beliefs about Cancer UK Survey (ABACUS) to examine the relationships between social isolation, loneliness, expectations of the future, access to and use of health information, and cancer-preventive health behaviors in aging populations.

Area 3: Cross-national comparisons of cognitive function in older adults

“Health and Aging in Africa: A Longitudinal Study of an INDEPTH Community in South Africa” (HAALSI) is an international sister study to the U.S. Health and Retirement Study (HRS), and many of the interview questions and measures are harmonized with those used in the HRS and other sister studies. Current research aims to understand the limits of the validity as well as the opportunities for cross-national harmonization presented by the cognitive assessments in the HAALSI, which have been adapted from the HRS.

For more information about HAALSI, click here.