Serious cognitive impairment declines 23% among older American women

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In a new study from the University of Toronto, researchers found an abrupt decline in cognitive impairment among American adults aged 65 and older compared to the same age group a decade earlier.

In 2008, 12.2 percent of older Americans reported serious cognitive problems. In 2017, the percentage had declined to 10.0 percent.

To put this into perspective, if the prevalence of cognitive impairment had remained at the 2008 levels, an additional 1.13 million older Americans would have experienced cognitive impairment in 2017.

In the study, the team used data from an annual nationally representative cross-sectional survey of approximately half a million American respondents aged 65 and older.

The rate of decline in cognitive impairment was steeper for women than men.

Women experienced a decline of 23% over the decade, while their male peers had a 13% decline during that period.

The researchers conducted sub-analyses on men and women aged 65–69, 70–74, 75–79, 80–84, 85–89, & and 90+.

All gender and age cohorts experienced a significant decline in the prevalence of cognitive impairment, with the exception of men aged 65–69.

Further analyses indicated that 60% of the observed decline in serious cognitive impairment was attributable to generational differences in educational attainment.

It appears that these increasing educational opportunities continue to pay dividends more than half a century later.

The short-term benefits of increasing educational attainment for income, productivity and the economy are well documented.

But this research suggests the long-term benefits on later-life cognitive functioning are substantial.

Our findings underline the importance of ensuring each generation has access to quality and affordable education.

However, the decline in the prevalence of cognitive problems was not entirely explained by generational differences in educational attainment, suggesting there may be other factors at play that warrant future research.

The authors hypothesize several possible contributors to these positive trends, such as improvement across the generations in nutrition, declines in smoking and air pollution, and the phase-out of leaded gasoline.

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The study is published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. One author of the study is Esme Fuller-Thomson.

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