Cognitive functioning and associated factors in older adults in South Africa

K Peltzer, N Phaswana-Mafuya


Objective. To investigate cognitive functioning and associated factors in a national probability sample of older South Africans who participated in the Study of Global AGEing and Adult Health (SAGE) in 2008.

Methods. In 2008 we conducted a national population-based cross-sectional study with a sample of 3 840 adults aged ≥50 years in South Africa. We administered a questionnaire surveying socio-demographic characteristics, health variables, and anthropometric and blood pressure measurements. Multivariate regression analyses were used to assess the association of socio-demographic factors and health variables with cognitive functioning.

Results. Mean variables in the sample were: 5.9 recalled words, a verbal fluency of 9.9 words in a specified category (animals), a forward and backward digit span of 5.2 and 3.2, respectively, and an overall mean cognition score of 48.5. Higher overall cognitive functioning (a combination of memory and executive functioning) was positively associated with: younger age; white, Indian/Asian or coloured ethnicity; being married; a higher level of education; greater wealth; a higher level of physical activity; a greater quality of life; and a better subjective health status.

Conclusions. Our findings can be used to refine future projections of cognitive function and healthcare needs in ageing middle-income societies such as those in South Africa.


Cognitive functioning; associated factors; older adults; South Africa; WHO SAGE

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Submitted: 09 June 2012
Published: 01 December 2012

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South African Journal of Psychiatry    |    ISSN: 1608-9685 (PRINT)    |    ISSN: 2078-6786 (ONLINE)