Cognition in elderly with autism


To determine the cognitive profile in older autistic adults.


In the first study we focused on adults aged 53 till 83 years of age. In this study we observed that aging had a smaller impact on fluency in the autism group than in the control group, while aging had a more profound effect on visual memory performance in the autism group. Hence, we provide novel evidence that elderly with an autism diagnosis have subtle neuropsychological difficulties, and that the developmental trajectories might differ between elderly with and without an autism diagnosis in particular cognitive domains. However, given the small sample size we need to be careful with these conclusions. Therefore, in a much larger follow up study (adults aged 18 till 80 years) we tested whether these findings could be replicated. We observed a different pattern. In general there were hardly any differences between the participants with and without an autism diagnosis in the cognitive performance on various tasks. Moreover also the role of aging did hardly differ between the two groups. Especially relevant is our finding that we did not find any hints that there might be accelerated cognitive aging in autistic adults. However, we did see some hints of a different aging trajectory on two memory tasks. On these tasks the age-related differences between those with and without an autism diagnoses became smaller as the ‘decrease’ we observed in adults without a diagnoses was not observed in the autistic adults. All of these aforementioned studies were cross-sectional studies so we actually can not speak of a decrease or an increase, we could only observe age-related difficulties. This is why we currently run a follow up study were we test the participants twice within a time frame of approximately 2 to 4 years. With this new study we hope to determine a) on which domains we do observe an increase and/or a decrease b) which cognitieve strategies people use c) and which individual differences are prominent to unravel the often observed heterogeneity (i.e., can we determine predictive subgroups?). You will find more information regarding this research in the Current Research section.

Related publications

Elderly with autism: Executive functions and memory Geurts, H.M., & Vissers, M., Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42, 665-675
Age-related Differences in Cognition across the Adult Lifespan in Autism Spectrum Disorder Lever, A.G., & Geurts, H.M. , Autism Research, 9, DOI: 10.1002/aur.1545
Atypical Working Memory Decline across the Adult Lifespan in Autism Spectrum Disorder? Lever, A.G., Werkle-Bergner, M., Brandmaier, A.M., Ridderinkhof, K.R., & Geurts, H.M., Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 124, 10.1037/abn0000108
Cognitieve veroudering bij volwassenen met autisme. Stand van zaken en toekomstperspectief Geurts, H.M., Wetenschappelijk Tijdschrift Autisme
Reactive and proactive interference in adults with ASD across the life span Lever, A.G., Ridderinkhof, K.R., Marsman, M., & Geurts, H.M., Developmental Psychology, 53, DOI: 10.1037/dev0000219