Term Paper: Rockstein and Sussman )

Pages: 4 (1410 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Physics  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] However, when elderly people have been accustomed to rapid or fine movements in certain tasks (such as playing a piano from an early age) or the task does not represent a novel experience for them, any decreased mental processing speed is less perceptible and does not affect functional abilities to the same extent.

The reduced speed of mental processing observed in older individuals is directly tied to some of the cognitive differences observed across generations, but there have been other areas of cognitive decline associated with normal aging. K. Warner Schaie is one of the most well-known researchers on the effects of normal aging on cognitive abilities. Using data from the Seattle Longitudinal Study Schaie and colleagues have described different patterns of cognitive aging and the mediators of these patterns and processes (Schaie, 2008). The best known of these findings has to do with the observation of differences in crystallized intelligence and fluid intelligence that occur in people over time. Crystallized intelligence is the result of accumulated knowledge and learning through experience, instruction, or socialization. These abilities would include skills like vocabulary knowledge, general information, formal logic, social judgment, etc. Fluid intelligence represents abilities include such abilities as seeing relationships among things (often abstract or novel relationships), making inferences about these relationships, and determining their implications to other situations. In effect, fluid abilities represent reasoning and problem solving abilities not directly related to formal training or experience. Crystallized abilities increase rapidly from childhood until the mid-20s when they level off a bit, but still display a slight increase well past age 70 and often do not sharply decline until a short time before death. Fluid abilities display the same initial increase, but begin a decline in the mid-20s and rapidly decline after the mid-50s or age 60. Thus, as people age they find it increasingly difficult to deal with novel or abstract situations. A practical example would be the difficulty many older people display learning to use new features of cell phones, computers, and other newer devices. Often the decline in fluid abilities along with decreased processing speed leads to poor motivation to acquire or learn new tasks in older people. Schaie has identified mediating factors that affect the decline of both types of abilities such as level of education and occupational status. People with higher levels of education and occupational status display less of a decline in both abilities over time, but retain the same general pattern.

Physical health is also a mediator of cognitive decline. For instance, a classic study by Birren et al. (1963) found that less healthy older subjects obtained poorer intellectual scores than healthy older individuals. In addition, younger subjects outperformed the older subjects on measures of processing speed, but both older groups (healthy and not healthy) outperformed the younger subjects on measures of vocabulary knowledge; early support for the notion that verbal reasoning does not decline with age, whereas abilities associated with CNS speed of processing do display age-related declines.

In general, there are declines in some functional abilities related to normal aging. However, these declines to not represent the stereotypic patterns of aging often portrayed by the media and can be mediated to some extent by assistive devices (e.g., eyeglasses), demographic factors (e.g., level of education or experience), and lifestyle (e.g., exercise) in addition to cultural notions of normal aging.


Al-Abdulwahab, S.S. (1999). The Effects of Aging on Muscle Strength and Functional Ability of Healthy Saudi Arabian Males. Annals of Saudi Medicine, 19 (3), 211-215.

Birren, J.E., Butler, R.N., Greenhouse, S.W., Sokoloff, L. & Yarrow, M.R. (Eds.) (1963). Human Aging: A Biological and Behavioral Study. (HSM Publication Number 71-9051). Washington DC: U.S. Publishing Office.

Paterson, DH, Jones, D.R., & Rice, C.L. (2007). Ageing and physical activity: evidence to develop exercise recommendations for older adults. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 98 (Supplement 2), S69 -- S108.

Rockstein, M. & Sussman, M. (1979). Biology of aging. CA: Wadsworth.

Troll, L.E. (1982). Continuations: Adult development and Aging. CA: Brooks/Cole.

Schaie, K.T. (2008). Historical Processes and Patterns in Cognitive Aging. In Hofer, S.M. & Alwin, D.F. (Eds.), Handbook of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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