Background: The cognitive reserve hypothesis would predict that use of written Japanese should confer protection against dementia because of the complexity of its ideograms compared with written English. We sought to test this hypothesis in analyses from a longitudinal study of Japanese-American men.
Methods: Participants were second-generation Japanese-American men (Nisei) on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, who were seen in 1965 and in subsequent examinations to detect dementia beginning in 1991–1993. Use of spoken and written Japanese was self-reported in 1965 (Analyses 1 and 2), and midlife use of written Japanese and written English was self-reported in 1994–1996 (Analysis 3). We analyzed prevalent dementia outcomes in 1991–1993 (Analysis 1, n = 3139) using logistic regression, and incident dementia outcomes in 1994–2002 (Analysis 2, n = 2299) and in 1997–2002 (Analysis 3, n = 1655) using Cox proportional hazards regression. Dementia outcomes included all-cause dementia, probable and possible Alzheimer disease, and probable vascular dementia. We adjusted models for probable and possible confounders.
Results: Participants who reported proficiency with written Japanese were older and had lower incomes. For Analysis 1, there were 154 prevalent cases of dementia, 74 of Alzheimer disease, and 43 of vascular dementia; for Analysis 2, 236 incident cases of dementia, 138 of Alzheimer disease, and 45 of vascular dementia; and for Analysis 3, 125 incident cases of dementia, 80 of Alzheimer disease, and 20 of vascular dementia. There was no relationship in adjusted models between self-reported proficiency with written Japanese and any dementia outcomes.
Conclusions: Proficiency with written Japanese does not appear to be protective for dementia.