A nationwide study found that, in a major reversal of trends, American baby boomers are showing a decline in cognitive functioning in a situation not seen in a long time. While on average, cognition scores of adults age 50 or older have increased from generation to generation, but the Baby Boomer generation has marked the first time since cognitive function has declined in aging folks. And, even more surprisingly, cognitive decline is lesser in older boomers (born from 1948 to 1953) and more intense in younger boomers (born from 1954 to 1959.)
According to Hui Zheng, the lead researcher on the study which was published in Journals of Gerontology: Social Sciences, who surveyed over 30,000 Americans found that decline in cognitive functioning was seen in all groups of Boomers: men, women, race, education, income, and wealth levels, but that it was most intense in younger boomers. In fact, the only declines that were slightly lower were among the wealthiest and most highly educated Boomers, although they still saw cognitive declines. The test — the same one that President Trump bragged about taking and acing which featured questions about elephants and counting back from 100 by 7 — was administered to people over 51 years old, every two years, from 1996 to 2014.
“Baby boomers already start having lower cognition scores than earlier generations at age 50 to 54,” Zheng said. But why are Boomers experiencing decreasing cognitive ability? According to Zheng, most poor cognitive conditions in adulthood are related to childhood health, but the Boomers had really excellent childhood conditions. The biggest factors that are linked to lower cognition scores among Boomers include lower wealth, loneliness, depression, lack of physical activity, and obesity, being married more than once, having cardiovascular risk factors, or diabetes were also related to lower cognitive functioning among Boomers.
In fact, says Zheng, “If it weren’t for their better childhood health, more favorable family background, more years of education and higher likelihood of having a white-collar occupation, baby boomers would have even worse cognitive functioning.” Zheng said that universal health care might help these issues.