NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 26, 2009

American seniors outperformed their British counterparts in cognition tests, indication that older Americans may be more mentally agile, according to a study in BMC Geriatrics.

The study drew on two survey research projects -- the U.S. Health and Retirement Study with 8,299 participants older than 65 and the English Longitudinal Study of Aging with involved 5,276 people over 65 -- that included the same cognition test based on word-recall.  Researchers found that:

  • Delayed recall test showed the greatest difference between countries: mean age- and sex-adjusted scores were 4.3 and 3.3 for the United States and Britain, respectively; a 24 percent relative difference.
  • Performance on the immediate recall test was closer -- 5.3 versus 4.8 on average -- but still significantly different.
  • But researchers noted several limitations to the study, in addition to the different modes of survey administration in the two countries.
  • Response rates were considerably higher in the U.S. study, and there were also differences in the methods for recruiting proxy respondents for sample members unable to respond directly.
  • Both studies also relied on respondents to provide information on health status, history, and behaviors.

Some neurologists suggest that the findings may have real-world significance, while others say that the differences between the data are a major weakness. Dr. Charles DeCarli, of the University of California Davis, notes that 70 percent of U.S. participants who responded by telephone could have written down the word lists to aid their memories.

Nevertheless, increased health care services for chronic disease may be beneficial for cognitive function. And most of the cost of American health care relates to medical procedures and not preventive medicine.

Source: John Gever, "U.S. Seniors Outperform British on Cognition Test," MedPage Today, June 24, 2009; based upon: Kenneth M. Langa et al., "Cognitive health among older adults in the United States and in England," BMC Geriatrics, June 2009.

For text:

For study text:


Browse more articles on Health Issues