Brain function — a new way to measure the economic impacts of aging

December 21, 2011

Cognitive function is a better indicator of the impacts of aging on an economy than age-distribution, since chronological age imposes less of a social and economic burden if the population is “functionally” younger, according to a study by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).

The study finds that one standardized indicator of cognitive ability — memory recall — is better in countries where education, nutrition, and health standards are generally higher. Aging populations are of concern to many countries as it is often assumed that aging implies a greater cost to society in terms of aged care, age-related disease, and reduced capacity to contribute to society.

“For example, in northern Europe or the United States, where there is a relatively large population over the age of 65, we found that cognitive function is higher for this age group than for the same age group in Mexico, India and China.”

Cognitive ability levels are also good indicators of individual productivity and this has direct relevance to the economic and business activities within a country.

The authors suggest that the difference in cognitive function may be explained by the fact that seniors in some regions of the world experience better conditions during their childhood and adult life, including nutrition, duration and quality of schooling, exposure to disease, and physical and social activity.

Ref.: Skirbekk, Vegard, et al., Variation in cognitive functioning as a refined approach to comparing aging across countries, PNAS, 2011; [DOI :10.1073/pnas.1112173109]