May-June 2009 Issue • Volume 37 • Issue 5

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Science Policy

How to prevent the decline in cognitive ability in the elderly: Medical treatment, education, and social networks

At a March 18 seminar in Washington, DC, three researchers, including sociologist Kathleen Cagney (University of Chicago), presented findings from their National Institute of Aging-supported (NIA) studies of cognitive impairment among the elderly.

When some people reach older ages, they begin to lose their ability to reason and to remember. With continued population aging—the number of Americans ages 65 or older is projected to swell from around 41 million to 65 million by 2025—the loss of cognitive function among some older Americans foreshadows a potentially enormous social and economic burden on individuals, families, communities, and the nation. At the seminar sponsored by the NIA and U.S. Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, researchers presented their findings on how education, income, better treatment of stroke and heart disease, and other factors affect the severe decline in cognitive ability among the elderly. The researchers were: Kenneth Langa, University of Michigan School of Medicine and Institute for Social Research, presented research on "brain health" through better medical treatments and increased education; Dawn Alley, University of Maryland School of Medicine, also looked at the benefits of education; and Kathleen Cagney, University of Chicago, presented findings on the neighborhood and social networks effect. For more information, see

A CDC resource for health researchers

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released their Health, United States, 2008, which presents national trends in health statistics on such topics (PDF, 14 MB) as birth and death rates, infant mortality, life expectancy, morbidity and health status, risk factors, use of ambulatory and inpatient care, health personnel and facilities, financing of health care, health insurance and managed care, and other health topics. The 32nd annual report card on the nation’s health includes a special chartbook section focusing on the health of young adults ages 18-29, which shows that Americans in this age group face a number of obstacles to their health, including increasing obesity, substance abuse, high injury rates, and a greater likelihood to be uninsured than other adults. In addition to the chartbook, the report includes over 150 detailed tables presenting trends on health status and health care utilization, resources, and expenditures. The report can be accessed on the NCHS website at


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