The onset of cognitive decline begins at age 45
( Article from the Department of Society, Human Development and Health - Harvard School of Public Health, Boston MA as reported in: CIEPS Jan 2012 )
Increased life expectancy implies fundamental changes in the composition of populations, with a significant rise in the number of elderly people. These changes are likely to have a massive influence on the life of individuals and on society in general. Abundant evidence has clearly established an inverse association between age and cognitive performance, but the age at which cognitive decline begins is much debated. Recent studies concluded that there was little evidence of cognitive decline before the age of 60. However, clinical studies demonstrate a correlation between the presence of amyloid plaques in the brain and the severity of cognitive decline. It would seem that these amyloid plaques are found in the brains of young adults. Few assessments of the effect of age on cognitive decline use data that spans over several years. This was the specific objective of the study led by researchers from Inserm and the University College London. As part of the Whitehall II cohort study, medical data was extracted for 5,198 men and 2,192 women, aged between 45 and 70 at the beginning of the study, monitored over a 10-year period. The cognitive functions of the participants were evaluated three times over this time. Individual tests were used to assess memory, vocabulary, reasoning and verbal fluency. The results show that cognitive performance (apart from the vocabulary tests) declines with age and more rapidly so as the individual's age increases. The decline is significant in each age group. For example, during the period studied, reasoning scores decreased by 3.6 % for men aged between 45 and 49, and 9.6 % for those aged between 65 and 70. The corresponding figures for women stood at 3.6% and 7.4% respectively. The authors underline that evidence pointing to cognitive decline before the age of 60 has significant consequences. "Determining the age at which cognitive decline begins is important since behavioural or pharmacological interventions designed to change cognitive aging trajectories are likely to be more effective if they are applied from the onset of decline." underlines Archana Singh-Manoux. "As life expectancy continues to increase, understanding the correlation between cognitive decline and age is one of the challenges of the 21st Century" she adds. This research is part of the Whitehall II cohort study and focused on more than 7,000 people over a ten-year period.
It may be spring but it is still a demographic winter
Its spring! The flora and the fauna are doing what they naturally do this time of year, how about us!? When it comes to people, we could take a few lessons from our fury and feathered friends! For example, there are few current, economic challenges that having more kids around wouldn’t help to solve. I just read 3 apparently unrelated articles that when viewed through the lens of demographics, are entirely related! First, ‘Retirees still working in retirement.’ Second, ‘Economic concerns force Canadians to postpone retirement’ and third, ‘Senior citizens see families infrequently.’ All these issues would be helped by an increased rate of fertility...an oversimplification? Let’s see.
Boomers recognize that a falling population may mean a diminished quality of life in retirement. Pensions, both private and public are being constantly redesigned, eliminating guarantees and having the benefits that they do deliver trimmed, to meet a growing sea of retirees requiring benefits for a much longer period in retirement than was ever anticipated. When the retired population is too large relative to the working population, paying pensions becomes an enormous burden. Either the young may need to pay crushing taxes or the elderly will not get the retirement income expected or both. Because of this, people approaching retirement are afraid to do so.
Consumer spending keeps an economy humming and the stock market climbing. When a population shrinks, the demand for goods and services shrinks. If you compare birth rates over the past hundred years with the stock market over that same period, you’d realize that the stock market swings with the birth rate having about a 40 year lag. People generally spend lots of money in their 40s. They buy bigger houses; they care for and educate their children, they buy better cars and other big ticket items. The assertion being that a population decline precedes an economic one.
Today, more retirement aged persons remain working. They fear being unable to enjoy the retirement lifestyle imagined funded from a now smaller nest egg negatively impacted by a long period of diminished returns and the future cost of living. Jobs that were to be available to the young workers now among our population are still occupied by the very people forecasted to have been retired by now. Hesitant to start a family or get married, more couples choose to delay marriage and children and live longer with parents at home. Fewer young families consuming fewer goods normally demanded by a generation rearing their young send workers into layoff while companies reduce their cost of production to match a dwindling market for their goods and services in order to maintain profitability regardless of fewer products sold. You get the picture!
With fertility rates lower than in any other period in history, we’re in big trouble. Over 70 countries now have fertility rates below replacement level, and Canada is among them. This phenomenon is impartial to race, religion and geography. It’s about the increasing rate, for a host of reasons that people are having fewer children. No one has the recommended solution to alleviate the consequences presented by an aging population that is concurrently not replacing itself, but no leader in government or in society is asking the tough questions either. This issue is certainly complex and I am writing a column not a thesis on the subject but if you were to ask me, I’d say, like Burt Bacharach’s song did in a time when the fertility rate wasn’t a problem, what the world needs now, is love, sweet love!