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Aging with elevated autistic traits: Cognitive functioning among older adults with the broad autism phenotype

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Gavin R. Stewart, Rebecca A. Charlton, Gregory L. Wallace

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-36
JournalResearch In Autism Spectrum Disorders
PublishedOct 2018

King's Authors


Background: Little is known about the impact of aging with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) on cognition. As a first step in addressing this gap in our knowledge, the current study examined cognitive functioning among older adults with elevated, but subclinical levels of autistic traits (i.e., the Broad Autism Phenotype; BAP) compared to older adults without the BAP.

Method: Forty older adults (aged 60-91, M=73 years) were recruited and classified as meeting criteria for the BAP (n=20) or not (control older adults, COA; n=20). Different components of executive function as well as episodic memory were measured using standardized performance-based neuropsychological assessments in addition to a self-report questionnaire of executive function difficulties.

Results: Despite no differences in age, sex ratio, educational history or IQ, the BAP group demonstrated poorer performance on measures of executive function and episodic memory compared to the COA group. The BAP group also self-reported more executive function difficulties in everyday settings. Moreover, differences in working memory and attentional shifting were maintained after accounting for the influences of IQ and both depression and anxiety symptoms.

Conclusions: These findings suggest that aging with the BAP confers additional risk to cognitive function for older adults. As the BAP forms a bridge in the continuum from typical to atypical levels of autistic traits, these findings suggest that individuals with ASD might also incur cognitive costs as they age into older adulthood.

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