Oral Health Symptoms and Cognitive Function Among US Community‐Dwelling Chinese Older Adults

J Am Geriatr Soc 67:S532–S537, 2019.

 

Abstract

BACKGROUND/OBJECTIVES

Limited research is available on the relationship between oral health symptoms and cognitive function among community‐dwelling US Chinese older adults. The purpose of this study was to examine the associations between tooth/gum symptoms and changes in cognitive function.

DESIGN

Two‐wave epidemiological study.

SETTING

Population Study of Chinese Elderly in Chicago (PINE).

PARTICIPANTS

US Chinese older adults (N = 2713; mean age = 72.6 y; 58.4% women).

MEASUREMENTS

We selected self‐reported oral (tooth and gum) symptoms as independent variables. To examine changes in cognitive function (wave 2: Baseline), we chose the following three domains: episodic memory (East Boston Memory Test); executive function (Symbol Digit Modalities Test); and working memory (Digit Span Backwards). In addition, we assessed global cognitive function by constructing a composite measure.

RESULTS

At baseline, 1297 participants (47.8%) reported having teeth symptoms, and 513 participants (18.9%) reported having gum symptoms. Adjusting for sociodemographic and health‐related characteristics, participants who reported having teeth symptoms at baseline experienced their global cognition decrease by 0.07 units (estimate = −0.07; p = .003) and their episodic memory decrease by 0.07 units (estimate = −0.07; p = .026). Participants who reported having teeth symptoms at baseline experienced a faster rate of decline in global cognition for every additional year (estimate = 0.02; p = .047). However, this effect disappeared once we adjusted for all covariates (estimate = 0.02; p = .069). We found no significant relationship between baseline gum symptoms and change of cognitive function.

CONCLUSION

Having teeth symptoms was associated with a decline in cognitive function among US Chinese older adults. Developing policy measures aimed at ameliorating health and improving cognition in this high‐risk fast‐growing population in the United States would need to include oral health preventive and dental care services.

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