Research Article| Volume 89, P29-35, July 2016

Sex differences in the association of physical function and cognitive function with life satisfaction in older age: The Rancho Bernardo Study

  • Amanda Ratigan
    Division of Epidemiology, Department of Family Medicine and Public Health, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Dr., La Jolla, CA, 92093, USA

    Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Graduate School of Public Health, San Diego State University, 5500 Campanile Dr. San Diego, CA, 92182, USA
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  • Donna Kritz-Silverstein
    Corresponding author at: Department of Family Medicine and Public Health, School of Medicine, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, 0675, La Jolla, CA 92093−0675, USA.
    Division of Epidemiology, Department of Family Medicine and Public Health, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Dr., La Jolla, CA, 92093, USA
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  • Elizabeth Barrett-Connor
    Division of Epidemiology, Department of Family Medicine and Public Health, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Dr., La Jolla, CA, 92093, USA
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      • In a sample of middle-class, community-dwelling adults aged over 60 years, limited cognitive function was more common than limited physical function.
      • Physical function may play a larger role in life satisfaction than cognitive function.
      • Impairment of physical function was associated with life satisfaction.
      • Impairment of cognitive function was not associated with life satisfaction.
      • More women than men had impairment of cognitive and physical functions.



      This study examines the cross-sectional associations of cognitive and physical function with life satisfaction in middle-class, community-dwelling adults aged 60 and older.

      Study design

      Participants were 632 women and 410 men who had cognitive function tests (CFT) and physical function tasks (PFT) assessed at a clinic visit between 1988 and 1992, and who responded in 1992 to a mailed survey that included life satisfaction measures. Cognitive impairment was defined as ≤24 on MMSE, ≥132 on Trails B, ≤12 on Category Fluency, ≤13 on Buschke long-term recall, and ≤7 on Heaton immediate recall. Physical impairment was defined as participants’ self-reported difficulty (yes/no) in performing 10 physical functions. Multiple linear regression examined associations between life satisfaction and impairment on ≥1 CFT or difficulty with ≥1 PFT.

      Main outcome measures

      The Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS; range:0–26) and Life Satisfaction Index-Z (LSI-Z; range:5–35).


      Participants’ average age was 73.4 years (range = 60–94). Categorically defined cognitive impairment was present in 40% of men and 47% of women. Additionally, 30% of men and 43% of women reported difficulty performing any PFT. Adjusting for age and impairment on ≥1 CFT, difficulty performing ≥1 PFT was associated with lower LSI-Z and SWLS scores in men (β = −1.73, −1.26, respectively, p< 0.05) and women (β = −1.79, −1.93, respectively, p< 0.01). However, impairment on ≥ 1 CFT was not associated with LSI-Z or SWLS score after adjusting for age and difficulty with ≥1 PFT.


      Limited cognitive function was more common than limited physical function; however, limited physical function was more predictive of lower life satisfaction. Interventions to increase or maintain mobility among older adults may improve overall life satisfaction.


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