Propositional density and cognitive function in later life: Findings from the precursors study

Michal Engelman, Emily M. Agree, Lucy A. Meoni, Michael J. Klag

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Objectives. We used longitudinal data from the Johns Hopkins Precursors Study to test the hypothesis that written propositional density measured early in life is lower for people who develop dementia categorized as Alzheimer's disease (AD). This association was reported in 1996 for the Nun Study, and the Precursors Study offered an unprecedented chance to reexamine it among respondents with different gender, education, and occupation profiles. Methods. Eighteen individuals classified as AD patients (average age at diagnosis: 74) were assigned 2 sex-and-age matched controls, and propositional density in medical school admission essays (average age at writing: 22) was assessed via Computerized Propositional Idea Density Rater 3 linguistic analysis software. Adjusted odds ratios (ORs) for the matched case-control study were calculated using conditional (fixed-effects) logistic regression. Results. Mean propositional density is lower for cases than for controls (4.70 vs. 4.99 propositions per 10 words, 1-sided p =. 01). Higher propositional density substantially lowers the odds of AD (OR = 0.16, 95% confidence interval = 0.03-0.90, 1-sided p =. 02). Discussion. Propositional density scores in writing samples from early adulthood appear to predict AD in later life for men as well as women. Studies of cognition across the life course might beneficially incorporate propositional density as a potential marker of cognitive reserve.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)706-711
Number of pages6
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Volume65 B
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2010


  • AD
  • Cognitive reserve
  • Dementia
  • Propositional density

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


Dive into the research topics of 'Propositional density and cognitive function in later life: Findings from the precursors study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this