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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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