Why Is Cognitive Change More Negative With Increased Age?

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Objective: The primary goal of the current study was to investigate factors contributing to more negative cognitive change at older ages. Method: Longitudinal data on 12 cognitive tests were examined in 2,637 adults ranging from 18 to 85 years of age. Because both the intervals between measurement occasions and the number of occasions varied across participants, it was possible to investigate effects of interval and number of measurement occasions on cognitive change in adults of different ages. In addition, about 1/2 of the participants performed alternate versions of the tests on a second and third session on the first occasion, which allowed change to be monitored over intervals of less than 1 week. Results: Regression analyses revealed that cognitive change was more negative with increases in the interval between occasions but was more positive with additional measurement occasions. Both the effects of interval and of number of measurement occasions were similar across adulthood. Increased age was associated with more positive gains over a period of a few days but was associated with more negative declines when the intervals between occasions averaged about 3 years. Conclusions: This combination of results suggests that longitudinal change in cognitive functioning is more negative at older ages not because of greater declines with increases in the interval between measurement occasions, or because of smaller gains with additional measurements. Instead most of the age differences in change may be due to greater losses of benefits associated with the initial assessment over intervals of months or more from the initial assessment.

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