Coffee consumption and age-related cognitive decline

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This blog post continues from a previous post on coffee consumption and neurodegenerative disorders, with a focus on coffee and age-related cognitive decline. For additional information on this topic you can also visit the Coffee and Health website.

Coffee and age-related cognitive decline

Cognitive functions (reaction time, rate of information perception and treatment) remain relatively stable until 60yrs and tend to notably slow down between 60 and 80 years. Research even suggests that brain function can start to decline as early as 45. However, the rate and extent of this cognitive decline vary among individuals.

Coffee and caffeine boost cognitive performance in the elderly

Young and elderly subjects appear to respond to the effects of caffeine differently in many studies. Overall, older adults are more receptive to the stimulating effects of caffeine on cognitive function than younger subjects. The amount of caffeine consumed may also affect the cognitive performance of older adults.

Two studies on elderly subjects showed improved attention, psychomotor (of, or relating to, movement or muscular activity associated with mental processes) performance and cognitive functioning with caffeine. The elderly seemed more receptive to the protective effects of caffeine on declining mental performance over time, than younger subjects in the studies.

Another study showed that, in subjects of 18-37 years, caffeine enhanced performance during distraction, rather than during simple tasks. In subjects of 60-75 years, however, caffeine improved performance during more complex tasks, involving continued attention.

It appears that caffeine is able to reverse the effects of cognitive aging, by making more energy resources available in elderly subjects.

In addition, a British study of 9,003 adults noted dose-related improvement in cognitive performance on a variety of tasks with elevated levels of caffeine consumption. Once again, older people seemed more disposed to the performance-enhancing effects of caffeine on mental performance than younger subjects.

Two Dutch studies on subjects aged 24-81 years however, also found positive effects of caffeine on cognition, mainly reaction time and verbal memory, but no age-related differences.

Besides caffeine, other constituents in coffee may also improve cognitive performance in older adults. For example, a recent pilot study on 39 healthy participants, aged 53-79 years, found that decaffeinated coffee including chlorogenic acids improved mood and some mood-related behaviours, compared to regular decaffeinated coffee.

Coffee and caffeine slow down age-related cognitive decline

Recent studies suggest that routine coffee/caffeine consumption may enhance the cognitive reserve of older adults to some extent, particularly in women.

A recent meta-analysis, looking at the effects of coffee/caffeine on different measures of cognitive impairment and/or decline, found that caffeine intake was linked to a reduced risk of cognitive decline, showing a protective role of coffee.

A number of individual studies have also shown that lifetime, regular caffeine consumption, mainly from coffee, appears to diminish cognitive decline as women, in particular, get older. The protective effect of caffeine increases with age and is most marked in women 80yrs or older.

Coffee’s effect is less clear in men. Although, in general, studies find no steady effect of caffeine on men’s cognitive decline, one study looking at the 10-year cognitive decline of 676 healthy men only, in three European countries, found that those who consumed coffee experienced a 10-year cognitive decline four times smaller than non-coffee drinkers. A survey performed in Taiwan on elderly men and women also suggested that the subjects who did not drink coffee were at a considerably higher risk of cognitive impairment than those who did.

Further research is needed to confirm the beneficial effects of coffee/caffeine on cognitive decline, and also to clarify why some studies found effects only in women.

For more information on coffee and age-related cognitive decline, and to view information sources, click here.


Dr Astrid Nehlig, Research Director from the French National Medical Research Institute (INSERM), also discusses the latest research on the relationship between coffee drinking and neurodegenerative disorders with Dr Sarah Schenker, Registered Dietitian, in our vodcast. To view this click here.

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