This isn’t the first time we’ve found how social policy changes can help protecting older people against cognitive decline. For example, we examined the impact of a French law that increased the minimum legal school leaving age by 2 years in 1959, from 14 to 16 years of age.
This law effectively increased the years of schooling for French adults presently reaching old age. We found that even decades after leaving school, a longer period in education helped older adults maintain cognitive function – particularly memory – and postponed cognitive decline.
Even policies that affect the whole economy have been found to be an important factor in health and memory. We found that older people exposed to an economic recession in the years leading up to their retirement experience faster cognitive decline in their post-retirement years. This suggests that policies that protect older people from the impact of economic decline might help them to maintain good cognitive function in older age.
Long-term care policies that enable older people to maintain independence and continue to socialise may also be important. “Ageing in place”, an approach that emphasises the importance of supporting older people to continue living in their home and community, has led many governments to offer care for older people with limitations in their own home.
Our research suggests that only a small fraction of older Europeans that have difficulty performing daily activities (such as dressing, walking or washing) are actually eligible to receive home care through the government.
But we also found that an increase in the amount of care that people receive at home through government-sponsored programmes, paradoxically, increases the amount of assistance they receive from friends and family. This suggests that a long-term policy that expands access to home care may help older people maintain social ties, mental well-being, and cognitive function well into older age.
While prospects such as new drugs that protect against cognitive ageing are exciting, research shows that many simple policy changes can also promote social and emotional well-being – which may be just as important for maintaining brain function in later life. Even in the face of declining physical ability, programmes that provide long-term care at home may be critical for maintaining cognitive function and leading a meaningful life at older age.original article