Theses and Dissertations


Phillips, Tommy M.

Committee Member

Downey, Laura Hall

Committee Member

Buys, David

Committee Member

Wheeler, Brandan

Date of Degree


Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access


Human Development and Family Science

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)


College of Agriculture and Life Sciences


School of Human Sciences


Dementia is an interminable disorder characterized by a decrease in cognitive functioning behavioral and emotional changes, and an overall diminishment in quality of life that usually affects the older population. In the coming decades, scientists estimate that the number of sufferers will reach over 100 million worldwide. Though there is currently no cure for any form of dementia, the theory of cognitive reserve posits certain lifestyle characteristics (i.e., educational attainment, SES, and/or career path) can mitigate the risk of dementia by improving cognitive resilience over an individual’s lifetime. The current study sought to discover what, if any, effects familial relationships, leisure activities, and volunteer service have on an individual’s level of cognitive impairment and ability to remember in his or her later years. Independent sample t-tests and hierarchical linear regression were used to analyze data from Wave 2 (1989, n = 2,867) and Wave 5 (2011, n = 1,319) of the Americans’ Changing Lives (ACL) survey. The study found that marital status, spending time with friends, and having pets, volunteer service, and time spent reading were associated with lower levels of cognitive impairment at the time of Wave 2, while marital status, spending time with friends, and spending time reading was associated with lower levels of cognitive impairment at the time of Wave 5, controlling for cognitive impairment at Wave 2. Furthermore, marital status, time spent reading, and visiting with friends was associated with less difficult remembering at the time of Wave 2.