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Cognitive Health and Baby Boomers: 6 Points to Keep in Mind

BrainVery interesting collection of recent news…let’s connect some dots

1) Great article titled Boom time for retirees (Financial Times)

– “By 2015, boomers will have a net worth of some $26,000bn (£12,750bn, ¬17,670bn)  equivalent to a year’s gross domestic product for the US and eurozone combined. They will control a larger proportion of wealth, income and consumption than any other generation in the country  the first time that consumers over 50 have held such sway over the world’s largest economy.”

– “But as the boomers aged by 2015 they will all be outside the fabled under-49 cohort  corporate America failed to grow old with them. Marketing experts argue that the continued focus of large companies such as P&G and Gap on the youth of  “generation and “generation” overlooks a simple statistic: the 18-49 age group will grow by only 1m people in the next 10 years, compared with the 22.5m Americans set to enter the 50-plus bracket.”

– “The last thing the [boomer] generation needs is a company that tells them they need tools to address their lack of dexterity, he says. “They don’t want geriatric tools, they want cool stuff.

Main take-way: baby boomers are always “awake” and reinventing things…companies, advertisers, time to wake-up!

Full article: Boom time for retirees

2) The article is based upon this excellent McKinsey report: Serving Aging Baby Boomers (subscription required)

– “The research provides a call to action for companies to understand and properly serve the aging boomers as new customers, determine what role boomers can play in their organization, shift products and services to address the rise and fall of boomer spending, and invest now to develop new products and services to address aging boomers needs, especially the unprepared segment.”

3) Some bad news on cognitive health and aging, based on a study just published: Partial Recall: Why Memory Fades with Age (Scientific American)

“But what is it that actually causes memory and other cognitive abilities to go soft with senescence? Previous research has shown that bundles of axons (tubular projections sent out by neurons to signal other nerve cells) wither over time. These conduits, collectively referred to as white matter, help connect different regions of the brain to allow for proper information processing.”

“They fingered the potential reason for the dip by doing further brain scans using diffusion tensor imaging, an MRI technique that gauges how well white matter is functioning by monitoring water movement along the axonal bundles. If communication is strong, water flows as if cascading down a celery stalk, says Randy Buckner, a cognitive neuroscientist at Harvard; if it is disrupted, the pattern looks more like a drop of dye in a water bucket that has scattered in all directions. The latter was more evident in the older group, an indication that their white matter had lost some of its integrity.”

Main take-away: what’s is new is that the study showed how a main factor in cognitive decline is the weakening of the main “bridges” between different parts of the brain. Which is why specialized, local abilities such as vocabulary may improve over time, while higher-order ones, such as planning or reasoning, that require the integration of multiple brain areas and functions, decline.

Full article: Partial Recall: Why Memory Fades with Age

4) And some good news: Older Adults with Mild Memory Impairment Still Benefit from Cognitive Training in Areas not Reliant on Memorization

– “Older adults with pre-existing mild memory impairment benefit as much as those with normal memory function from certain forms of cognitive training that don’t rely on memorization, according to a study published this week in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society. These findings could indicate the ability for older adults to maintain skills that allow them to carry out daily tasks and lead a higher quality of life.”

– “In the study supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), older adults who were otherwise healthy and living independently received training focused on targeted cognitive skills. A small number of participants in the study were found to have a decline in their ability to form new memories of experiences or facts, an ability called declarative memory. These individuals were unable to improve their memorization skills, but were able to improve their reasoning skills and become faster at processing visual information.”

Main take-away: some of those areas that tend to decline as we age can be trained and improved (or, at least, the rate of decline reduced).

5) One important implication that neither the article nor the report above cover enough is how all this will impact Corporate Hiring and Training practices to help boomers stay healthy and productive as long as possible. You can read more about our thoughts at Training the Aging Workforce and also enjoy this concept map on Cognitive Fitness and The Future of Work

6) The article Ten Important Truths About Aging provides an overview of how cognitive health evolves with age and potential interventions. With all the debate these days between physical vs. mental exercise, not to talk about computer-based brain fitness gyms, it is important to understand the roles of both.

Guess which demographic group will reinvent lifelong cognitive fitness and health habits?

Credit for pic: National Geographic

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7 Responses

  1. Mike says:

    Thank you for the numbers. Very useful for an upcoming presentation.

  2. James says:

    Once again, Alvaro, you have assembled some fantastic resources. Thank you and Happy New Year!

  3. Alvaro says:

    Mike, James, thanks for the kind words, and Happy 2008!

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