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Cognitive Deficits in the Elderly Trending Downward

Posted Oct 03 2008 12:52pm

This article reviews recent evidence to suggest memory deficits in older Americans in the US is trending downward.  The authors note that increased mental stimulation, along with improved medical care, have had a dramatic effect on the cognitive health of older adults.  A couple of quotes from the article:

"The prevalence of cognitive impairment in this age group went down by 3.5 percentage points between 1993 and 2002 from 12.2 percent to 8.7 percent, representing a difference of hundreds of thousands of people."

and:

"And while the reasons for this decline aren't yet fully known, the authors say today's older people are much likelier to have had more formal education, higher economic status, and better care for risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking that can jeopardize their brains."

Now, the authors warn that, though the percentages are dropping, the absolute numbers will continue to rise in the short term, given the huge numbers of people entering this age group.  They are also concerned that other health trends, such as the increase in Type II Diabetes, will cut into these recent gains.

Overall, though, the trend is positive, and the prescription for maintaining one's cognitive skills is clear:

Meanwhile, they say, today's older Americans should not rest on their laurels but instead should be pursuing activities that can keep their minds sharp and their cardiovascular risk low. From crossword puzzles and volunteer activities to blood pressure medications, today's seniors can work to boost their brain health now and prevent decline later.
"More and more studies suggest that walking and other types of physical activity are important for preventing cognitive and memory decline," says co-author Eric Larson, M.D., M.P.H., executive director of the Group Health Center for Health Studies in Seattle, where he has led many studies of the relationship between physical activity and brain health.

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