Increasingly capable at the ripe old age? Cognitive abilities from 2004 to 2013 in Germany, Spain, and Sweden.


Life expectancy is increasing in most high-income countries, but gains in life years are maximized if spent in good health and if cognitive abilities are maintained until old age. Age-related decline of cognitive abilities does nevertheless occur, but the pace of decline is decisive. This was the starting point for our study that aims to examine cohort effects of cognitive aging in women and men in Germany, Spain and Sweden by analyzing changes from 2004 to 2013 by estimating cohort effects within age groups starting from the age of 50 years.


A cohort study was conducted that was based on data of the surveys 2004 (N = 6,081) and 2013 (N = 8,650) from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE). The analyses were based on data of female and male respondents aged 50 years and older. Age-specific means of verbal fluency and delayed recall from the German, Spanish and Swedish samples were the cognitive domains considered in the study.


In both domains of cognitive ability the achievements in the later surveys were higher than in the earlier ones. This was found in all countries, abut achievement levels increased markedly in the German and the Spanish samples, while the scores of the Swedish samples were not significantly different. While the highest scores were found for Sweden, Germany ranked in the middle and the lowest scores were found in the Spanish samples. Over time, the scores of the German samples approached those of Sweden.


From the first to the second survey, improvements of older adults' cognitive abilities were found for all countries considered. This may indicate improvements of the underlying educational systems, but also increasingly stimulating general living conditions.


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