Older people have become younger: physical and cognitive function have improved meaningfully in 30 years (University of Jyväskylä release):
The functional ability of older people is nowadays better when it is compared to that of people at the same age three decades ago. This was observed in a study conducted at the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland. The study compared the physical and cognitive performance of people nowadays between the ages of 75 and 80 with that of the same-aged people in the 1990s.
“Higher physical activity and increased body size explained the better walking speed and muscle strength among the later-born cohort,” says doctoral student Kaisa Koivunen, “whereas the most important underlying factor behind the cohort differences in cognitive performance was longer education.”
Postdoctoral researcher Matti Munukka continues: “The cohort of 75- and 80-year-olds born later has grown up and lived in a different world than did their counterparts born three decades ago. There have been many favourable changes. These include better nutrition and hygiene, improvements in health care and the school system, better accessibility to education and improved working life.”
Birth cohort differences in cognitive performance in 75- and 80-year-olds: a comparison of two cohorts over 28 years (Aging Clinical and Experimental Research). From the abstract:
- Objective: To evaluate cohort differences in cognitive performance in older men and women born and assessed 28 years apart.
- Methods: Data in this study were drawn from two age-homogeneous cohorts measured in the same laboratory using the same standardized cognitive performance tests. Participants in the first cohort were born in 1910 and 1914 and assessed in 1989–1990 (Evergreen project, n=500). Participants in the second cohort were born in 1938 or 1939 and 1942 or 1943 and assessed in 2017–2018 (Evergreen II, n=726). Participants in both cohorts were assessed at age 75 and 80 years and were recruited from the population register. Cognitive performance was measured using the Digit Span test from the Wechsler Memory Scale (WMS), Digit Symbol test from the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) and phonemic Verbal Fluency test from the Schaie-Thurstone Adult Mental Abilities Test. Reaction time assessing motor and mental responses was measured with a simple finger movement task, followed by a complex finger movement task. T‑tests were used to study cohort differences and linear regression models to study possible factors underlying differences.
- Results: We found statistically significant cohort differences in all the cognitive performance tests, except for the digit span test and simple movement task in men, the later-born cohort performing better in all the measured outcomes.
- Conclusions: The results of this study provide strong evidence that cognitive performance is better in more recent cohorts of older people compared to their counterparts measured 28 years earlier. (Editor’s Note: The cognitive performance measures used underlie traits such as memory, attention, processing speed and problem solving.)
The Study in Context:
- Brain scans show lower accumulation of tau and amyloid pathology among cognitive “super-agers”
- Reminder: A brain-friendly lifestyle is the best approach to delay cognitive decline and dementia
- Cognitive training, diet, exercise, and vascular management seen to improve cognition even in people with genetic predisposition for dementia (APOE e4)
- Repetitive negative thinking may increase (or perhaps be caused by) cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s pathology