Questions for Debra Brody, Lead Author of ”Cognitive Performance in Adults Aged 60 and Over, NHANES 2011-2014.”
Q: What was your objective in conducting this study?
DB: Our objective was to describe the cognitive performance, based on objective assessments, of U.S. adults aged 60 and over. We examined selected areas of cognition such as language, memory, attention, reasoning, and processing speed.
Q: Is this a topic you have looked at before?
DB: Cognitive performance has been evaluated periodically in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, but the assessment method and age group has not always been the same. Of the assessments conducted during 2011-2014, only one had been administered previously.
Q: Which cognitive tests were administered?
DB: Cognitive performance was evaluated with selected standardized instruments, including a 10 word list learning test consisting of 3 immediate recalls, and a delayed recall; a 1 minute animal naming test, and the digit symbol substitution test that required matching numbers with symbols. There are other subdomains of cognitive ability that were not assessed. The tests were administered during the examination portion of the survey.
Q: What are your most important findings from this study?
DB: Cognitive assessment scores varied by sociodemographic characteristics. Overall, mean scores decreased with increasing age; for example, persons 80 years and older, on average, named 5 fewer animals and remembered 2 fewer words than persons in the 60-69 year old category. We also found that mean scores were lower for persons with less education and income, for persons reporting fair or poor health status, and for those who were aware of a change in their memory over the past year. These results are generally consistent with other published studies.
Q: What is the main point you want people to take away from this study?
DB: The report showed the wide range of cognitive performance among adults 60 and older in the U.S. Further examination of these data in relation to other medical conditions may provide insight in understanding how cognition changes as we age.