People in their 90s are getting smarter
“The outcome underlines that ageing is malleable,” Olde Rikkert says, adding that cognitive function can actually be a lot better than people would assume until a very high age.
“It’s motivating that people, their lifestyles, and their environments can contribute a lot to the way they age,” he says, though he cautions that not everything is in our own hands and help is still needed for those with dementia or those who do experience cognitive decline as they age.
Improved education played a part in the changes, says Christensen. But the study does not disentangle the individual effects of the numerous things that could be responsible for the improvements. “The 1915 cohort had a number of factors on their side – they experienced better living and working conditions, they had radio, TV and newspapers earlier in their lives than those born 10 years before,” he says.
Tellingly, there was no difference in the physical test results between the two groups. The authors say this “suggests changes in the intellectual environment rather than in the physical environment are the basis for the improvement”.
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