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Medicine Science

Researchers Find 70-Year-Olds Are Getting Smarter 115

Posted by timothy
from the watch-how-they-drive dept.
Pickens writes "AlphaGalileo reports that researchers from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden have found in a forty-year study of 2,000 seniors that today's 70-year-olds do far better in intelligence tests than their predecessors, making it more difficult to detect dementia in its early stages. 'Using the test results, we've tried to identify people who are at risk of developing dementia,' says Dr. Simona Sacuiu. 'While this worked well for the group of 70-year-olds born in 1901-02, the same tests didn't offer any clues about who will develop dementia in the later generation of 70-year-olds born in 1930.' The 70-year-olds born in 1930 and examined in 2000 performed better in the intelligence tests than their predecessors born in 1901-02 and examined in 1971. 'The improvement can partly be explained by better pre- and neonatal care, better nutrition, higher quality of education, better treatment of high blood pressure and other vascular diseases, and not least the higher intellectual requirements of today's society, where access to advanced technology, television and the Internet has become part of everyday life,' says Sacuiu."
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Researchers Find 70-Year-Olds Are Getting Smarter

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  • by Tablizer (95088) on Sunday October 24, 2010 @01:20AM (#34001934) Journal

    and get off my alopecurus pratensis!

  • by gandhi_2 (1108023) on Sunday October 24, 2010 @01:25AM (#34001946) Homepage

    it's well documented that staying active in the workforce is good for the brain, at least when compared to the sedentary tv-filled days of most retirees.

    todays 70-year-olds are smarter.... because most of them can't afford to retire.

    • by cappp (1822388) on Sunday October 24, 2010 @01:31AM (#34001962)
      Or is it? NPR recently ran a story [npr.org] reporting that "mentally stimulating lifestyles may speed up dementia once it hits in old age." It's not a long read but it's certainly relevent to the discussion. Maybe these 70-year olds are merely enjoying the delay effects described?

      So for those who are mentally engaged, it may take many more years for the symptoms of the disease to appear. But once they do, the course of the disease seems to speed up. Researchers say there's a bit of a silver lining here: knowing that the disease will likely progress more quickly. "We think this is very good news," Wilson says. "It suggests that cognitive activity extends your period of cognitive independence as long as it possibly can." And it will likely shorten the battle at the end of life. This means Alzheimer's patients may be less of a burden to caregivers and loved ones.

      • by dkf (304284) <donal.k.fellows@manchester.ac.uk> on Sunday October 24, 2010 @02:41AM (#34002178) Homepage

        Or is it? NPR recently ran a story [npr.org] reporting that "mentally stimulating lifestyles may speed up dementia once it hits in old age." It's not a long read but it's certainly relevent to the discussion. Maybe these 70-year olds are merely enjoying the delay effects described?

        It's probably the case that the mental stimulation is having no effect on the disease itself, but is helping a lot with allowing the effects of the disease to be masked by the increased plasticity of the rest of the brain. In other words, you're going at the same time but you're suffering far less.

    • by SeaFox (739806) on Sunday October 24, 2010 @03:20AM (#34002294)

      Maybe it's because today's 70-year-olds are more educated than their predecessors were. If we look at what time frames today's seniors verses yester-decade's seniors grew up in we'll find more of the older generation came from times when child labor was more common, education depreciated for the common man, and agriculture families were more common. Fewer kids stayed in school beyond what was required by law (if there were requirements in their state) so they were on average less educated.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Nerdfest (867930)
        ... basically, they're getting better at doing IQ tests, as they're more used to solving that sort of problem.
    • by nospam007 (722110) * on Sunday October 24, 2010 @03:38AM (#34002332)

      "todays 70-year-olds are smarter.... because most of them can't afford to retire."

      It's in Sweden, their geezers _can_ retire, no problem.

    • by dominious (1077089) on Sunday October 24, 2010 @04:50AM (#34002576)

      it's well documented that staying active in the workforce is good for the brain, at least when compared to the sedentary tv-filled days of most retirees.

      Great! Now the French goverment have their motto!

    • by rtb61 (674572)

      As IQ is an average, it could just mean the sub-twenties are slipping into the sub-100s and the seventies are seeming smarter in comparison. There are of course plenty of studies that show the elderly who use computers maintain higher intellectual skills as they age. The internet versus the idiot box, they call it an idiot box http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idiot_box [wikipedia.org] for a reason, just look at the Fox not-News Channel the idiots channel, beckerheads one and all.

    • by turbidostato (878842) on Sunday October 24, 2010 @06:00AM (#34002826)

      "it's well documented that staying active in the workforce is good for the brain"

      And this has to do with Sweden exactly, what?

      Sweden, you know, is one of those old European countries USA people would tell as communist as old Soviet Union if some from its life style would be tried in America. Swedish oldies have no problem to retire and they do on average at 61 with all Swedish residents entitled to a state-financed guaranteed minimum pension from the age of 65, which is the standard retirement age over there.

      "todays 70-year-olds are smarter.... because most of them can't afford to retire."

      Again, USA is not the all and everything of the world.

    • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

      it's well documented that staying active in the workforce is good for the brain

      Where?

    • by August_zero (654282) on Sunday October 24, 2010 @08:11AM (#34003402)
      Meanwhile in the United States, the popularity of the "Snuggie" suggests that dementia may be setting in as early as age 30.
    • by daem0n1x (748565)
      I can't see how working in a typical organisation can be intellectually stimulating for anyone. Most people I know are miserable in their jobs and would retire at this very moment, if they could.
      • by gandhi_2 (1108023)

        Have you ever been inside a nursing home? Or in most retiree's living rooms?

        A couple hours a day of some task CAN be beneficial compared to the tedium of most retirees lives.

        • by daem0n1x (748565)

          They have activities in nursing homes. Just many of the old guys can't perform any kind of activity any more.

  • Well... (Score:5, Funny)

    by mederbil (1756400) on Sunday October 24, 2010 @01:27AM (#34001950)

    ...There predecessors are in their 80s and 90s now or dead. If a 70 year old isn't smarter than a dead person, then I don't understand science!

  • by fishexe (168879) on Sunday October 24, 2010 @01:36AM (#34001978) Homepage

    ...researchers from the Universiy of Gothenburg, Sweden have found in a forty year study of 2,000 seniors that today's 70-year-olds do far better in intelligence tests than their predecessors making it more difficult to detect dementia in its early stages.

    Dammit, seniors! Get dumber so we can detect your dementia!

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by EdIII (1114411)

      Don't worry about it. With the educational system in the US being what it is, give it another 30-40 years and that same test will determine that like all the 70 year olds have dementia. Another 30-40 years after that the testing stuff will determine our shit is like tarded and all fucked up.

      Idiocracy, here we come.

    • by sqldr (838964) on Sunday October 24, 2010 @04:54AM (#34002592)
      Dementia doesn't get anywhere near the funding it should. There's all these cancer charities - mostly focused on breast cancer whereas nobody appears to care about brain cancer or lung cancer (you don't just get it by smoking), while demetia sufferers need far more support, cost far more time and money to treat, and frankly I'd take prostate cancer over altzheimers any day. At least on my death bed I'll be able to remember who my sister is.
      • Dementia doesn't get anywhere near the funding it should. There's all these cancer charities - mostly focused on breast cancer whereas nobody appears to care about brain cancer or lung cancer (you don't just get it by smoking)

        I, for one, refuse to support dementia or cancer of any type, and you should too. Just say no to funding these awful things!

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Dementia doesn't get anywhere near the funding it should. There's all these cancer charities -

        Not to be rude, but at some level there's a limit to what can be funded. Perhaps more could be funded in total and there should be more dementia research funding over cancer research funding. But, I was always under the impression that cancer research got more attention because people were more concerned about children, teens, young adults, middle-aged adults, and pre-seniors all not dying of cancer than someone

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Idiomatick (976696)
          Erm... the point of funding research if to find solutions not.... I dunno what ever you thought it was for. Breast cancer deserves more research funding because it is has already been decently solved? Something like 90% of women survive it. Lets shift our focus to something that is "costing far more time and money to aid"... the point of research is to CHANGE that.
        • by sempir (1916194)
          Please fund me! I'm 70 and can be as demented as necessary! Please send funds to me C/O /.
          • by daremonai (859175)
            Ha! You're demented if you think that will work.

            Oh, wait, that means I need to fund you.

            But then that means it's not such a demented idea after all, and I don't need to fund you!

            No, wait, that means .... Ow, my brain hurts. I'll just have to wait until I'm 70 to figure it out.

      • Re:Dammit, seniors! (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Nidi62 (1525137) on Sunday October 24, 2010 @07:38AM (#34003218)
        Not to mention the fact that you can survive and recover from prostate cancer. My great grandmother had at least 3 strokes before she died. For a while(until she was just too much to handle for them) she lived with my grandparents. They actually had to install a door in the hallway that they could lock, so that at night she could get to a bathroom but couldn't go around the house or, worse, get out of the house. She didn't know people in pictures, she could barely walk, or hardly communicate(I know some of that is different than dementia, but from a cognitive capacity standpoint, they're the same thing). I saw what it did to her and to my grandmother. My great-uncle was also diagnosed with prostate cancer. His went away, but he was recently diagnosed with something that is a precursor of leukemia and is undergoing chemo again. Like you say, I would much rather go through what he's going through than what she did, because while both had the support of our family, he can actually recognize that they're there and that he has a support base.
        • Mastectomy works about 75% of the time for stage 1 breast cancer. The other 25% it doesn't work because the cancer metastasizes and spreads to the rest of the body, including the brain. This eventually kills the patient. Eventually may be a long time.

          It took 10 years to kill my mother. The brain tumor was found because of dementia.

      • Yup the local Safeways (maybe all Safeways - I don't know) run multiple breast cancer fund raising periods throughout the year. Recently they started having a once yearly prostate cancer fund raising period but the effort is nothing like that for breast cancer. No thanks. General cancer research funding drives? Sure. Alzheimers research funding drives? Sure. Sex specific research funding drives? No thanks.
  • You whippersnappers wouldn't be able to get on it in the first place!

    * PROBLEM SOLVED *

    You're welcome America.

  • SMRT (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Reed Solomon (897367)

    Well they must be getting smarter, they surely can't possibly get any dumber. Being against a public option yet if you try to take away their medicare there'll be hell to pay. I wonder how it is that the stupid seem to often outlive the intelligent.

    • Re:SMRT (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Troll-in-Training (1815480) on Sunday October 24, 2010 @03:13AM (#34002266)

      Well they must be getting smarter, they surely can't possibly get any dumber. Being against a public option yet if you try to take away their medicare there'll be hell to pay. I wonder how it is that the stupid seem to often outlive the intelligent.

      Stress is a killer, dealing with all the stupid people weakens the smart people and they die sooner. Stupid people are happier and have less stress as they off load it to those smarter than them thus living longer (those that don't win Darwin awards early on). Stupidity has advantages, it is why it will always be with us.

  • by siddesu (698447) on Sunday October 24, 2010 @03:14AM (#34002276)

    If you are locked up in a room, detached from communication with the outside world and people look at you as a piece of furniture, you expire faster.

    Besides, same is true of all animals, not only 70 year old homo sapiens. Me and my neighbour got our dogs from the same litter almost 19 years ago.

    He left his dog more or less on its own. It was a happy and long living pup, but died demented at an age of 15 and a half.

    My dog (blame the SO as much as me) has had extensive health care -- supplements, regular checkups, and uses a DIY robo-wheel-chair for walks now, because the hind legs cannot support the weight anymore. It is still alive (almost 19 years old) and alert, although completely deaf and almost blind from the cataract.

    So, yeah, medical care, attention and stimulation work.

    What else is new?

    • > and uses a DIY robo-wheel-chair for walks now

      Any chance you will (or already have) posted instructions or a description of this invention?

      I was kind of hoping that by the time my dog will need it, there'd be an affordable exoskeleton available for this problem; on the other hand, given my dog's temperament, he'd be afraid of his own exoskeleton.

      • by siddesu (698447)

        Nothing fancy, unfortunately, it is a basic bot -- a frame with wheels, some motors attached and a few microcontrollers and sensors and an RC which I use to walk it. Not even sure there is enough value to post it separately.

        I am not that original, or skillful, sadly.

    • by bsDaemon (87307)

      How alert can he really be if he's blind and deaf? And he can't walk under his own power? I had a golden retriever/german shepherd mix for 14 years, and at that point he had long out-lived every other dog in his litter. He started having seizures and one eventually caused him to go blind. I found out that my parents had to take him and put him down a week after thanksgiving, after my sister showed up at my dorm, forced a cigarette at me and told me she had bad news at like, 7 in the morning.

      I don't know

      • What a way to start smoking :(

      • by siddesu (698447)

        American Cocker Spaniel.

        Why cruel? The dog tires easily and is only awake for a few hours every day now, but when she is, she behaves like she did when she was a puppy -- playing with us, enjoying being pet, scratched and fed stuff she likes, she still greets the family, likes her walks and the other dogs, she's not in pain or discomfort for now.

        • by bsDaemon (87307)

          Well, it just sounded to me like she wasn't really able to get anything more out of life herself and that she was basically having her life span artificially extended to suit the wishes of her human owners. As long as she's not in pain and is still able to get something out of life, then I won't judge. It does make me think about my own "end of life care" situation though, although I'm only 26 and (hopefully) that's a ways off.

          • by VJ42 (860241) *

            It does make me think about my own "end of life care" situation though, although I'm only 26 and (hopefully) that's a ways off.

            No kidding, this whole article has made me think about that unpleasant prospect again; I'm 27. This has reinforced my position that unless there's a cure for dementia\Alzheimers' soon I need to write a living will so that people know that I don't want treatment, instead I want an assisted suicide whilst I can still remember my own name.

  • Stimulation (Score:5, Informative)

    by MichaelSmith (789609) on Sunday October 24, 2010 @03:21AM (#34002298) Homepage Journal

    My dad retired from rockwell at 65 and I was worried for while because spent a couple of years cruising around the country with his girlfriend in their winnebago. Not very stimulating and a recipe for a second heart attack IMHO.

    But now he is getting into U3A [griffith.edu.au] and spending seemingly half the week there. He is teaching courses, taking courses. Reorganising their local area network, installing servers, griping and moaning about this guy who built the sites databases in access, and generally having a fantastic time.

    I just wish I could get him to walk or cycle to U3A rather than driving. Its only five km or so and he can't afford to have his heart seize up again.

    I think there used to be this expectation that retirement was a time when you could catch up on all that TV you were missing and create the lawn. Baby boomers have different expectations and this may be helping their prospects.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cappp (1822388)
      I read a great article [msn.com] a couple years back about seniors moving into retirement communities close to university campuses and since then I've known how I want to retire. It makes perfect sense too - universities get another source of income and a really interesting new dynamic in class and on campus, and the older folks benefit from the non-stop hum of activity a university represents and the huge range of services they provide. I know when I was a student there were multiple university-sponsored events occu
      • Lawn Stimulation (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        That was about five years ago. They should do a follow up to see if it was as successful as they hoped.

      • tru dat, mang (Score:3, Interesting)

        by pxc (938367)

        I've personally found that one of the biggest advantages of taking a course at a community college vs a big university is that there are more people 30+ years old. In every class, there is a time almost daily that one of these students has insight to offer that they've gained from the professional world (eg. working in the healthcare industry) or their personal lives (having kids makes you a valuable asset to any psychology class :-). There are a lot of things I'd never get to hear or understand if I was j

      • Let's just hope they aren't eligible for student loans, because we know they aren't going to pay them back.
    • My dad retired from rockwell at 65 and I was worried for while because spent a couple of years cruising around the country with his girlfriend in their winnebago. Not very stimulating and a recipe for a second heart attack IMHO.

      That seems a little biased. A lot of people would find cruising around the country seeing new sights and exploring, all with their SO, to be quite stimulating. I assume he and his girlfriend get out of the Winnebago and take a look around once in a while. Others might find doing some

  • stupidity (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dirty_ghost (1673990)
    knowledge != intelligence
    • by UCSCTek (806902)

      Yeah, it upsets me that the seeming majority of people actually equate those. I think the problem arises from "intelligence" being vaguely defined in common usage. Does intelligence imply abstract reasoning? Creativity? Simply being quick with arithmetic? We could really use a bunch of new words to cover the differences between these abilities, which are all intellectual, but vastly different.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by at_slashdot (674436)

      I am no so sure about that, the brain is a complex organ, it might be possible that if you store more info (knowledge) you also get more intelligent. The brain is not like a memory chip where you store and remove data without actually changing the hardware, the simple fact of memorizing stuff for example changes your brain. Also, memorizing is not a passive activity, usually you (and your brain) are actively involved in the process.

      Also, talking from the other side of the equation about intelligence, it's p

      • You can have intelligence in the lack of knowledge, GIGO notwithstanding. Given a set of premises, and taking a logical decision on those premises does not in any make it a bad decision if one of those premises are wrong. The garbage that comes out is at least correct garbage.
    • And this can be demonstrated by dimensional analysis!

  • From a quick glance in the article, I couldn't find whether or not the test was the same for the 70 year-olds born in 1900 and in 1930. Classic intelligence tests (IQ tests) need to be 'normalized' every few years, because the general populace is getting smarter. If they used the same test, this is not at all surprising. It would hold for a much wider range of ages

    • by elwinc (663074)
      I think part of the issue here is that IQ tests do not actually measure what they purport to measure. In other words, IQ is supposed to be an innate and immutable indicator of a person's ability. But whatever it is that IQ tests measure, that measurement can be changed by education and cultural circumstances. IQ is supposed to be purely about ability, but in fact it is very much about achievement. And the latest generation of 70 year olds have achieved more, so they score better.
  • I'm here, too (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    80 is the new 60. At this point in life, many of us revert to the "and 1/2" definition favored by 5 year-olds. I'm 77 and three quarters.

    I believe that physical, emotional and mental activity prolong life.

    Length of life is not as important as quality of life. A factor that's helping me have both is the exceptional preventive health care I get from the US Veteran's Administration. Fifteen years ago, they diagnosed and cured my prostate cancer before it got into my system. They caught my diabetes early, befo

    • 80 is the new 60. At this point in life, many of us revert to the "and 1/2" definition favored by 5 year-olds. I'm 77 and three quarters.

      That's the dementia starting.

  • I told you... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by feepness (543479)
    ...we should have voted for McCain!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    We used to think people had all the neurons they were going to have by their early twenties. It was all downhill from there. We now know that we can grow new neurons. We also know that the brain can wire around damage.

    We now know that the brain is a lot like a muscle. Exercise builds the brain just like it does muscles. Seniors don't have to be feeble. The reason most seniors are feeble is that they quit exercising. Seniors who exercise physically aren't feeble physically. Seniors who exercise their

  • Am I misunderstanding this, or does this just sound like a logical extension of the Flynn effect [wikipedia.org]? Everyone's getting smarter, and "everyone" naturally includes seniors, so . . .
  • Yesterday, my friend's 70 year old dad scalded himself by pouring water from the kettle over his hand to test "whether it had boiled yet". Fortunately we didn't miss the match back home, having been fast-tracked through casualty since he's a doctor at the local hospital.
  • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Sunday October 24, 2010 @08:47AM (#34003576)

    My masters adviser was a guy named John Fenn. He's now 93 and still quite active in academia today.

    When he was about 70 Yale University tried to forcibly retire the guy. The laugh about this is that about this time he started a course of research into characterization of protein molecules that led to a Nobel Prize, awarded in 2002. Because of the retirement flap he left Yale and is now at Virginia Commonwealth.

    So was he smart at age 70? Duh.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by fnj (64210)

      A one percentile example anecdote does not prove the rule, but it _is_ pleasant to read about - precisely because it is so uncommon.

  • CLEARLY Brain Age is responsible for this.
  • I have read that every 20 or 25 years or so the IQ tests have to be re-calibrated to make them harder. This is because of the Flynn effect.

    The average IQ scores rise 3 points per decade or 10 points per generation.

    One explanation I have heard is that the tests measure how abstract your thinking is and each generation has more and more developed abstract thinking.

    So this result should have been expected.

    My poor mom is 71 and has dementia. When you loved ones get this, you lose them a little at a time inste

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      > My poor mom is 71 and has dementia. When you loved ones get this, you lose them a little at a time instead of all at once. She used to read voraciously and carry on intellectual conversations. Now that is all gone. She taught me to think for myself.

      She's not at a so advanced age. I'm sorry to hear this. I've seen a documentary from Japan where they took seniors through several kinds of brain stimulating activities and had they don those hats with sensors to monitor neuron activity before/after all acti

  • Leaded petrol introduced to Europe during WWII was phased out during 90s due to accumulative neurotoxicity of lead. The guys tested in 2000 had probably much lower blood lead concentration than the group tested in 1971. Chronic lead exposure is known to have adverse effect on short-term memory and concentration. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lead_poisoning [wikipedia.org]
  • If we know our children are getting smarter quicker because of the constant blasting of technology around them, they know how to program the pvr at 5...etc...of course once they get to 70, they will be smarter then last generations 70 year olds.
    It is the same with technology, our curve will adapt to match that of technology, we have no choice, because technology is designed by us for us, and mass produced for the population we have, they say in another 10 years everyone will have their own cell phone....if

  • Therefore I am at least 10 years away from dementia, which is freemdom fromr worrying about life or health or taxes or burial plots.

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