People over the age of 50 ‘becoming smarter, but also less fit’

    2 September 2015

    Older people are becoming more intelligent, but also less fit, according to a study carried out in Germany by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

    People over the age of 50 are increasingly scoring better on tests of cognitive function than similarly aged people did in the past. The IIASA believes this could be due to improving standards of education and increased use of technology.

    The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, also found that the average physical health of the older population is declining. The comparison was made by comparing data from 2006 and 2012.

    Cognition is used as a yardstick because it is universally expected to decline with age, and the rate at which it does so can measure the differences between population groups. For example, this study found that declines in physical functioning and mental health were especially pronounced in poorly educated men between the ages of 50 and 64.

    The authors say this is the first study to demonstrate divergent trends over time between cognitive and physical function.

    The study’s lead author and IIASA World Population Programme researcher, Nadia Steiber, says that people are adapting to a more demanding life in older age.

    ‘We think that these divergent results can be explained by changing lifestyles. Life has become cognitively more demanding, with increasing use of communication and information technology also by older people, and people working longer in intellectually demanding jobs. At the same time, we are seeing a decline in physical activity and rising levels of obesity.’