Secular Trends in Dementia Free Cognitive Function in Older Adults: A Systematic Review

Blossom Christa Maree Stephan, Eugene Yee Hing Tang, Eduwin Pakpahan, Bijetri Biswas, Alisha Gupta, Andrea M. McGrattan, Alessandro Bosco, Andrea Fairley, Connor D. Richardson, Louise Robinson, Mario Siervo

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Although numerous studies have reported a decrease in dementia risk in the last two decades, it is unclear whether dementia-free cognitive function is also changing across generations. The objective was to systematically evaluate the published data on generational differences in cognitive function in the older population. Searches were performed on PubMed, Embase, and PsychInfo for articles published in English before 20 June 2021. Included studies were from population-based samples that reported generational differences in cognition in individuals without dementia, aged ≥60 years. 28,101 studies were identified and 15 selected covering the period from 1971 to 2015: including studies from China, Europe, and the USA. The results show generally consistent findings of improvements or stability in dementia free cognitive function in later versus earlier born generations, but not for all cognitive domains. Prevalence of mild cognitive impairment and cognitive impairment no dementia has remained stable in the USA, UK, and China over the last two decades. Prevalence of vascular related mild cognitive impairment has increased in China. Improvements in cognition may only partially be explained by increased educational attainment across generations. This review provides evidence for generational effects in dementia-free cognitive function, predominately stability or improvements in performance, in later compared to earlier born individuals across different world regions. There is an urgent need to determine the factors driving such changes and whether they are being experienced in all world regions, particularly low- and middle-income countries where the burden of cognitive impairment is greatest and rising.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)417-428
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Alzheimer's Disease
Issue number2
Early online date28 May 2022
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jul 2022


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