Today’s Older Adults Are Cognitively Fitter Than Older Adults Were 20 Years Ago, but When and How They Decline Is No Different Than in the Past

Denis Gerstorf, Nilam Ram, Johanna Drewelies, Sandra Duezel, Peter Eibich, Elisabeth Steinhagen-Thiessen, Stefan Liebig, Jan Goebel, Ilja Demuth, Arno Villringer, Gert G. Wagner, Ulman Lindenberger, Paolo Ghisletta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations

Abstract

History-graded increases in older adults’ levels of cognitive performance are well documented, but little is known about historical shifts in within-person change: cognitive decline and onset of decline. We combined harmonized perceptual-motor speed data from independent samples recruited in 1990 and 2010 to obtain 2,008 age-matched longitudinal observations (M = 78 years, 50% women) from 228 participants in the Berlin Aging Study (BASE) and 583 participants in the Berlin Aging Study II (BASE-II). We used nonlinear growth models that orthogonalized within- and between-person age effects and controlled for retest effects. At age 78, the later-born BASE-II cohort substantially outperformed the earlier-born BASE cohort (d = 1.20; 25 years of age difference). Age trajectories, however, were parallel, and there was no evidence of cohort differences in the amount or rate of decline and the onset of decline. Cognitive functioning has shifted to higher levels, but cognitive decline in old age appears to proceed similarly as it did two decades ago.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)22-34
Number of pages13
JournalPsychological Science
Volume34
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology

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