Modern technology is making older brains younger, but their health is declining, according to a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Normally, cognitive function declines with age, but men and women between the ages of 50 and 90 years scored higher on tests of mental ability than they did only six years earlier.
German researchers measured cognitive processing speed, physical fitness, and mental health in 2006 and again in 2012.
They found that cognitive test scores increased significantly within the 6-year period — for both men and women of all ages — while physical functioning and mental health declined.
Declines were sharpest for low-educated men aged 50-64.
Other studies, however, have shown the health of seniors to be increasing, with both cognitive as well as physical health on the rise.
The current study is the first to show opposing trends between cognitive and physical function over a period of time.
"We think that these divergent results can be explained by changing lifestyles," said Nadia Steiber, author of the study.
"Life has become cognitively more demanding, with increasing use of communication and information technology also by older people, and people working longer in intellectually demanding jobs.
"At the same time," she continued, "we are seeing a decline in physical activity and rising levels of obesity."
The study found that test scores of people over the age of 50 scored 4 to 8 years younger than they did six years earlier.
A British study published last week in the journal Intelligence found similar results.
Researchers attribute the increase in cognitive scores to the mental stimulation provided by using computers and cellphones.
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