Is it possible that intelligence has increased from one generation to the next?
Findings of a Swedish study that examined 70-year-olds born in 1930 found that they scored higher on intelligence tests than their predecessors born in 1901 and 1902, who were previously assessed in 1971.
The data comes from the H70 study, which has encompassed a 30-year assessment of the physical and mental health of aging adults from Gothenburg, Sweden. The study commenced in 1971 and included regular testing and evaluation of participants born in 1930.
A new H70 study started in the year 2000, and is still ongoing. Data has been collected from more than 2,000 senior Gothenburg residents in these studies.
“The improvement can partly be explained by better pre- and neonatal care, better nutrition, higher quality of education, better treatment of high blood pressure and other vascular diseases, and not least the higher intellectual requirements of today’s society, where access to advanced technology, television and the Internet has become part of everyday life,” says Simona Sacuiu, resident in psychiatry at Sahlgrenska University Hospital and medical researcher at the Sahlgrenska Academy’s Unit of Neuropsychiatric Epidemiology.
Data on cognitive symptoms from the H70 study have also been used to predict the development of dementia and identify any changes in symptoms in recent generations. Findings have revealed that aside from the symptom of forgetfulness, it has become more challenging to identify early-stage dementia in today’s aging population.
Participants in the study were examined extensively over the 30-year period and administered a number of tests to measure memory, speed, language, logic and spatial awareness.
“Using the test results, we’ve tried to identify people who are at risk of developing dementia,” says Sacuiu. “While this worked well for the group of 70-year-olds born in 1901-02, the same tests didn’t offer any clues about who will develop dementia in the later generation of 70-year-olds born in 1930.”
For 70-year-olds examined in 2000, findings revealed that there were no differences in test results between those who developed dementia and those who did not over the next five years. In contrast, many tests enabled the early detections of dementia in the group born in 1901-02 and tested in 1971.
Memory problems were the only symptoms identified as a pre-indicator of dementia in the latter group, but researchers pointed out that many of those with memory issues did not go on to develop dementia.
“That’s why it’s important for people with memory problems to receive a thorough examination,” explains Dr. Sacuiu. “If we are to identify dementia effectively at an early stage, we need good tools that include psychometric tests. However, these must constantly be adapted to new generations, as older people are performing better and better in standardized psychometric tests.”
The incidence of dementia between the two generations did not change, according to findings. The rate of dementia in people aged 70 to 75 in 2000 was the same as it was 30 years prior.
“Learning more about the early signs of dementia means that patients may get help and support more quickly,” says Dr. Sacuiu.
New results from the study were published earlier this year in Neurology.
Source: University of Gothenburg