There is evidence for long-lasting effects of birth characteristics on cognitive ability in childhood and adulthood. Further, low cognitive ability throughout the lifetime has been linked to age-related cognitive decline and dementia risk. However, little is known about the effects of birth characteristics on cognitive dysfunction late in life. Here we explore potential associations between birth characteristics (weight, head circumference, length, and gestational age), adjusted and not adjusted for gestational age, and cognitive impairment and dementia late in life.
Data from twins in the Swedish Twin Registry born 1926-1960 were merged with information from the Swedish birth, patient, and cause of death registries, resulting in a sample of 35,191 individuals. A subsample of 4,000 twins aged 65 years and older also participated in a telephone cognitive screening in 1998-2002. Associations of birth characteristics with registry-based dementia diagnoses and on telephone-assessed cognitive impairment were investigated in the full sample and subsample, respectively. The full sample contained 907 (2.6%) individuals with a dementia diagnosis (an incidence rate of 5.9% per 100,000 person-years), 803 (2.4%) individuals born small for gestational age, and 929 (2.8%) individuals born with a small head for gestational age. The subsample contained 569 (14.2%) individuals with cognitive impairment. Low birth weight for gestational age and being born with a small head for gestational age were significant risk factors for cognitive dysfunction late in life, with an up to 2-fold risk increase (p