Baby Boomers Are Experiencing Cognitive Decline Earlier Than Past Generations, Study Finds

Assistant Managing Editor By Abby Moore
Assistant Managing Editor
Abby Moore is an assistant managing editor at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine.
This Generation Is More Likely To Have Cognitive Decline In Their Early 50s

Over the course of generations, adults showed an increase in overall cognition scores. However, a recent study, published in the Journals of Gerontology: Social Sciences says that trend reversed with the baby boomers.

Researchers from Ohio State University said average cognition scores began to decline with early baby boomers (born 1948 to 1953) and went down even further with the mid baby boomers (1954 to 1959). 

What did they find?

The researchers studied data from 30,191 adults, all of whom were over 51 years old. The participants were given cognitive and memory assessment every two years from 1996 to 2014. 

Compared to other generations, baby boomers started experiencing cognitive decline earlier in life—at around 50 to 54 years old. 

"It is shocking to see this decline in cognitive functioning among baby boomers after generations of increases in test scores," study author Hui Zheng, Ph.D., said in a news release. "But what was most surprising to me is that this decline is seen in all groups: men and women, across all races and ethnicities and across all education, income, and wealth levels."


Why baby boomers?

When assessing possible reasons, Zheng ruled out childhood factors. Compared to older generations, baby boomers had equal or better health care and education, and generally came from families of a higher socioeconomic status. 

Instead, the low scores were associated with less wealth; higher levels of loneliness, depression, inactivity, and obesity; and a lower likelihood of marriage in adulthood. Other factors included being married more than once and having psychiatric problems or cardiovascular risk factors. 

"If it weren't for their better childhood health, more favorable family background, more years of education and a higher likelihood of having a white-collar occupation, baby boomers would have even worse cognitive functioning," Zheng said. 

So, what does this mean?

Over the past few years, the prevalence of Alzheimer's and dementia has declined in the U.S. Based on the baby boomers' test scores, though, Zheng says those numbers may start to rise. 

While late baby boomers (1960 to 1964) were not included in the study, Zheng believes their outcomes will be similar. To keep the same issues from affecting future generations, it's important to focus on the factors that may be associated with cognitive decline and try to reduce them.

Making time for social connection with friends and family and prioritizing physical and mental health may help re-reverse these trends and, hopefully, lower the risk of dementia later in life.

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