Cognitive Decline with Aging

Torenvliet et al, 2021

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Nothing about us without us
Who: Torenvliet and colleagues
Where: Autism Research
Published: 2021
Title: Parallel age-related cognitive effects in autism: A cross-sectional replication study

Cognitive Effects of Aging in Autistic Adults

This study looked into the decline of cognitive abilities in older autistic adults as compared to non-autistic adults.

Torenvliet et al, 2021

So far, research into cognitive aging in autism has been inconsistent. There has been evidence for more pronounced aging and less pronounced aging, both between studies and within the same study!

This research was a direct replication of a previous study (Leveret al., 2015; Lever & Geurts, 2016).

Torenvliet et al, 2021

They analysed the results from 176 participants between the ages of 30 and 89 years. 88 were autistic and 88 were not.

Participants were matched for age, sex, and IQ in order to see the differences in these results between autistic and non-autistic people.

These participants completed measures of verbal memory, visual memory, visual working memory, theory of mind, fluency, processing speed, and subjective cognition.

Torenvliet et al, 2021

Non-autistic participants performed better than autistic participants on two of these measures: verbal fluency and theory of mind, but these were not associated with age. This does not imply that older autistic adults have more cognitive difficulties than younger autistic people.

There were age related effects in verbal memory, fluency, and processing speed, but these were not different between autistic and non-autistic participants. This suggests that older people struggle with these aspects of cognition, but that it is not related to being autistic.

Torenvliet et al, 2021

There was a difference between the original study and this study with regards to verbal memory, but combining this data shows that it is unlikely that there is a difference between the verbal memory abilities of autistic and non-autistic people.

Memory is an aspect of cognition that typically declines with aging, and this doesn’t seem to be different in autistic people.

Torenvliet et al, 2021

This study suggests that autistic people are not more at risk of cognitive decline than non-autistic people. However, this data was static (taken at one point), and longitudinal research (research with the same participants over a number of years) into this area would be highly beneficial.

However, this study may not have captured the experiences of those who do experience cognitive decline, as all the participants were individual who were able to engage with research, and those with a neurological condition (such as epilepsy, stroke, MS, schizophrenia, or multiple instances of psychosis) were excluded.

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