Age and education effects on cognitive functioning in Coloured women

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Photo: Tembela Bohle, Pexels

Coloured women in SA have an increased risk for low cognitive functioning, as they present with low education levels and unhealthy lifestyle behaviours, due to a historically broken education system.

Professor Elmarie Terblanche, of Stellenbosch University‘s faculty of medicine and health sciences, said in a Cape Talk report that the study had been criticised for playing into racist tropes but Terblanche said: “It is very unfortunate that that is the view because it was absolutely not the idea to highlight what is going on in a specific population. Rather, this is a group that is not often studied while there are similar studies on other population groups.

She says this group in South Africa has the highest levels of hypertension and cholesterol, physical inactivity and obesity. All those factors affect cognitive functioning. The report says she agrees with critics who argue the term ‘coloured’ is not one that can be applied to a homogenous group but says as scientists and researchers, different racial groups need to be specified as they may exhibit different health problems.

“Because of the unique characteristics of each community, we have to understand what is going on amongst those individuals before we can devise interventions or health programmes. There was huge debate in the department about using the term ‘coloured’.”

Terblanche said: “The apartheid legacy had a profound impact on the development of black people in South Africa – and lack of access to proper education was a key factor.”

Terblanche says access to education over the past 20 years has not improved. Those not exposed to proper education are at very high risk of developing a neurocognitive disease of which dementia is one.

“The study did not address intelligence but rather a cognitive functioning which is the very specific functions of our brain which helps us to pay attention to things, to remember things, and plan tasks. It is not a question of intelligence.”

This cognitive functioning is affected as we age and is also impacted by education, she explains. Improving fitness is an important way of countering this problem.

Abstract
Coloured women in South Africa have an increased risk for low cognitive functioning, as they present with low education levels and unhealthy lifestyle behaviors. This study assessed the cognitive function and its association with age and education in a sample of young and middle-aged Coloured South African women. A group of 60 women (18–64 years) were included in this study; they were separated into four age groups and two education groups. Cognitive function was assessed using the Montreal Cognitive Assessment and a computerized neurocognitive test. Education and age were significantly correlated with all measured cognitive domains (p < 0.05). An age-related decline was observed for all domains, with low scores observed for processing speed already in young adulthood. The high education group scored significantly better in all cognitive domains (p < 0.05). Young to middle-aged Colored women present with low cognitive function and which is significantly influenced by education.

Authors
Sharne Niewoudt, Kasha Dickie, Carla Coetzee, Louise Engelbrecht

Cape Talk report
Aging Neuropsychology and Cognition abstract


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