Improved health may extend or shorten the duration of cognitive impairment by postponing incidence or death. We assess the duration of cognitive impairment in the US Health and Retirement Study (1992–2004) by self reported BMI, smoking and levels of education in men and women and three ethnic groups. We define multistate life tables by the transition rates to cognitive impairment, recovery and death and estimate Cox proportional hazard ratios for the studied determinants. 95% confidence intervals are obtained by bootstrapping. 55 year old white men and women expect to live 25.4 and 30.0 years, of which 1.7 [95% confidence intervals 1.5; 1.9] years and 2.7 [2.4; 2.9] years with cognitive impairment. Both black men and women live 3.7 [2.9; 4.5] years longer with cognitive impairment than whites, Hispanic men and women 3.2 [1.9; 4.6] and 5.8 [4.2; 7.5] years. BMI makes no difference. Smoking decreases the duration of cognitive impairment with 0.8 [0.4; 1.3] years by high mortality. Highly educated men and women live longer, but 1.6 years [1.1; 2.2] and 1.9 years [1.6; 2.6] shorter with cognitive impairment than lowly educated men and women. The effect of education is more pronounced among ethnic minorities. Higher life expectancy goes together with a longer period of cognitive impairment, but not for higher levels of education: that extends life in good cognitive health but shortens the period of cognitive impairment. The increased duration of cognitive impairment in minority ethnic groups needs further study, also in Europe.
keywords: cognitive impairment;multistate life tables; body mass index; smoking; educational status; ethnic groups