Kramer Contributes to National Academy Report on Cognitive Aging

Beckman Director Art Kramer, full-time faculty member in the Human Perception and Performance Group and Swanlund Chair and professor of psychology and neuroscience at Illinois, contributed to the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies Study on Cognitive Aging, which assessed the public health dimensions of cognitive aging with an emphasis on definitions and terminology, epidemiology and surveillance, prevention and intervention, education of health professionals, and public awareness and education.

The report says that gradual and variable change in mental functions that occurs naturally as people age, not as part of a neurological disease such as Alzheimer’s disease, is one of the most challenging health issues encountered by older adults. The aging process affects the brain just like any other part of the body.  Known as “cognitive aging,” the type and rate of change can vary widely among individuals.  Some will experience very few, if any, effects, while others may experience changes in their  memory, speed of processing information, problem solving,  learning, and decision-making abilities.  

“The IOM report is particularly important because it summarizes the current state-of-the-science in our understanding of cognitive aging, the mechanisms that underlie age-related cognitive change, and what we can do to minimize negative cognitive changes across the adult lifespan,” said Kramer. “The report should be useful both for its public health implications and as a prescription for the research gaps that can be addressed over the next decade.”

Aging can affect cognitive abilities needed to perform daily tasks, such as driving, following recipes, adhering to medication schedules, and paying bills, the committee said. Individuals of all ages should take the following three steps to help promote cognitive health:

  • Be physically active. 
  • Reduce and manage cardiovascular disease risk factors, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking.
  • Regularly discuss and review health conditions and medications that might influence cognitive health with a health care professional.  A number of medications can have a negative effect -- temporary or long term --on cognitive function when used alone or in combination with other medication. 

The study can be found at www.iom.edu/Reports/2015/Cognitive-Aging.aspx