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New Research Shows Cognitive Decline Begins At 45

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  • Well crap (Score:5, Funny)

    by mr1911 (1942298) on Monday January 09, 2012 @12:29PM (#38638256)
    I just turned 45 and don't feel any decline in my... wait, what were we talking about?
    • Not so fast (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Brain-Fu (1274756) on Monday January 09, 2012 @12:43PM (#38638480) Homepage Journal

      I had a calculus tutor in high school, he was retired and had to have been at least 70, but he was brilliant and his analytical skills don't seem to have declined at all.

      I would expect that the amount you exercise your brain, and how healthy you eat/exercise, plays a big role.

      • Re:Not so fast (Score:5, Insightful)

        by q.kontinuum (676242) on Monday January 09, 2012 @12:51PM (#38638606)

        This depends if the originator of the research wants to sell you games/riddles to exercise you brain, sports gear, some vitamins or if he wants to do the thinking for you as a paid service. In the latter case all hope is lost, and neither vitamins nor training will help you.

      • he was retired and had to have been at least 70, but he was brilliant and his analytical skills don't seem to have declined at all

        The ability to learn new concepts is what is declining the more.

        • Re:Not so fast (Score:5, Interesting)

          by hedwards (940851) on Monday January 09, 2012 @01:45PM (#38639318)

          I'm not so sure that's really the case. It gets tough to know as such studies usually are conducted on people from the same country. It could well be the same type of reasoning that concludes that adults suck at learning new languages, even though it's common place for adults to have to learn a new one as adults in parts of Africa. I see no basis for assuming that they're smarter or dumber than we are in the US, which leads to interesting questions about what differences there may or may not be.

          Also, once one gets to be older one tends to have a greater tendency not to want to learn new things as we're taught that the only value to being elderly is being experienced and experience is ultimately the enemy of learning anything too novel.

          • Re:Not so fast (Score:5, Insightful)

            by mcgrew (92797) * on Monday January 09, 2012 @04:48PM (#38641778) Homepage Journal

            Also, once one gets to be older one tends to have a greater tendency not to want to learn new things as we're taught that the only value to being elderly is being experienced and experience is ultimately the enemy of learning anything too novel.

            I don't think that's the case; I'm 59 and still love learning new stuff. I'm only experienced at what I have experience with. But I'm more of a creature of habit these days, which I think is a better explanation. My maternal grandfather resisted getting indoor plumbing when I was a kid, and after my uncle built a bathroom onto Grandpa's house, Grandpa still used the outhouse, even in below freezing weather.

            I try to drag my dad into the 21st century; It would be nice to be able to email or text him a photo instead of sticking a piece of paper in an envelope like they did three centuries ago, but "I did without a computer and cell phone for eighty years and I don't need one now."

            I hope I die before I reach that point. But at any rate, part of being experienced is being experienced at learning to cope with changes to ones tools. Dad was an electrical lineman, and went from climbing poles and using wooden tools to a bucket truck and plastic; I don't think they even use the spike boots for climbing.

            When I bitch about MS Outlook I have experience behind me, having been online since 1983. I can say with authority that in thirty years of emailing I've never seen a worse email client, from a user's perspective. Someone fresh out of college would have to have a very solid citation to rebut it (if in fact an opinion can be rebutted).

      • Re:Not so fast (Score:5, Interesting)

        by vlm (69642) on Monday January 09, 2012 @12:56PM (#38638670)

        Ah but teaching, even teaching a cognition heavy top, does not necessarily require much cognition. The noncognition memory way to teach is "why I remember back in '63 another young man just like you making the same mistake with integration by parts and what I told him back in '63 was..." Then there is the non-cognition cheerleader way to teach which just amounts to telling you that you can do it. And the non-cognition drill sgt way to teach is just telling you that you will do it.

        Calc hasn't changed much in a couple hundred years, at least at the undergrad level. Now a math teaching job that would require some cognition would be designing a "how to prove Fermats last theorem" class. So do you start with the full modularity theorem even though only the semistable elliptic curves are necessary for FLT and the full modularity theorem was proven after FLT, but maybe you should introduce the full theory as a concept and then go in depth into just semi-stable elliptic curves, or ... Now experience does enter into this so you need to correct for that to test pure cognition.

      • by postbigbang (761081) on Monday January 09, 2012 @12:56PM (#38638676)

        We were all born to die. That there is a decline is no mystery, not the age. Some people continue mental fitness, while others screw off on slashdot. Oh, wait...

      • Re:Not so fast (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Aphoxema (1088507) on Monday January 09, 2012 @01:02PM (#38638738) Homepage Journal

        This isn't really suggesting that all people begin to decline at 45, generally people become more knowledgeable and better able to understand abstract things as they keep adding on the years. Dementia disorders, particularly Alzheimer's, are what is being discussed her and being able to better preempt the diseases with more warning is the benefit of this study.

        Really, anyone who throws the idiot blanket over seniors (like I used to) haven't had much experience with healthy and active seniors. There's just a lot of influences convincing most people that being old invariably means incontinence, dementia, sentimentalism, bigotry, an unwillingness to learn and a death-grip on nostalgia.

        Even working in nursing homes, where the least functional people tend to find their way to, I've found the most common issue to be physical impairment. This often leads to incontinence because the person could not appropriately eliminate in time, and due to both they often face depression which causes every sort of problem that we perceive to be the norm in old age.

      • Re:Not so fast (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Mitreya (579078) <mitreyaNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday January 09, 2012 @01:20PM (#38638976)
        he was retired and had to have been at least 70, but he was brilliant and his analytical skills don't seem to have declined at all.

        Oh, my, how did that get rated +5 insightful? With all due respect, even if your anecdote was not about one vaguely described example, it is still completely pointless and irrelevant
        Since that was someone you knew in high school, you probably weren't born when he was under 45. Sadly, there is an excellent chance that he was even more brilliant when he was 30 or 40. The decline is, after all, a relative thing.

      • Re:Not so fast (Score:4, Insightful)

        by GauteL (29207) on Monday January 09, 2012 @02:17PM (#38639716)

        I had a calculus tutor in high school, he was retired and had to have been at least 70, but he was brilliant and his analytical skills don't seem to have declined at all.

        Did you know him when he was 35? Perhaps his analytical skills were even higher?

        In any case people tend to compensate through knowledge and experience.

        • Re:Not so fast (Score:5, Insightful)

          by michael_cain (66650) on Monday January 09, 2012 @03:37PM (#38640726) Journal

          In any case people tend to compensate through knowledge and experience.

          And various sorts of mental crutches. I've lost the reference, but the study suggested that people with higher cognitive skills were more likely to recognize that their skills were declining, and figure out substitutes to make up for the difference, like a greater dependency on "to do" lists. The concluding hypothesis was that this explained some of the observations that people with higher IQs who succumbed to various dementias appeared to decline more rapidly after onset; that the actual onset was missed due to the use of crutches, and the decline appeared more rapid once the dementia had reached a stage where the crutches were no longer sufficient.

          Speaking anecdotally, I can still retrieve and explain the real analysis I learned when I was 22. What I can't do, now that I'm approaching 60, is soak up and retain new math at the same pace I could then.

      • Re:Not so fast (Score:5, Interesting)

        by riverat1 (1048260) on Monday January 09, 2012 @02:18PM (#38639734)

        I had a calculus tutor in high school, he was retired and had to have been at least 70, but he was brilliant and his analytical skills don't seem to have declined at all.

        I would expect that the amount you exercise your brain, and how healthy you eat/exercise, plays a big role.

        I'm pushing 60 and have noticed that my cognitive abilities have declined. I'm still just as good with stuff I have learned as I used to be, I haven't forgot much. What is declining is the speed that I can learn new stuff. It's takes me more work and time now to pick up on new concepts than it used to.

        So I'm not surprised that your calculus tutor is brilliant in a field he's been working in all of his life and perhaps he is one of those exceptional people who don't decline like most but sometimes it's the exception that proves the rule.

    • by Hoi Polloi (522990) on Monday January 09, 2012 @02:02PM (#38639544) Journal

      So I don't have to switch off my turn signal anymore? Sweet!

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      People age at different rates. I turn 60 this year, and although I'm sure there has been some mental decline, it hasn't shown itself yet. I don't look as old as I am, either.

      My grandmother was in her late 70s when she started worrying about "losing her mind" -- then I saw all the meds the docs had her taking every day, including some strong narcotics. I told her to ask her dr about it, he cut down on some of her dosages and she recovered. Your comment made me think of that. Last year I had a brain fart like

  • And old was the youngest boss of him? I guess, 45?

  • well, duh (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sribe (304414) on Monday January 09, 2012 @12:30PM (#38638266)

    Any 50-year old could have told you this ;-) However, note that we're talking about a fairly narrow subset of cognition here...

  • by alphatel (1450715) * on Monday January 09, 2012 @12:31PM (#38638272)
    Did they properly consult the AD&D chart for character age [wizards.com]? I show INT and especially WIS increasing over time.
  • Is it age? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jason777 (557591)
    Perhaps its age, or perhaps its from years of flouride in the drinking water, BPA in everything we eat, and other poisons like artificial sweetener.
    • Re:Is it age? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by somersault (912633) on Monday January 09, 2012 @12:38PM (#38638404) Homepage Journal

      Don't forget the culture of just sitting in front of the TV/computer, slowly vegetating as you watch the latest reality TV or people miming along to music on YouTube, etc

    • Re:Is it age? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by anagama (611277) <obamaisaneocon@nothingchanged.org> on Monday January 09, 2012 @12:46PM (#38638518) Homepage

      Or maybe it is that evolutionary factors are rendered pretty much irrelevant after the hormone raging teens and early 20s -- by then most people who are going to reproduce have and problems that crop up later are not selected out on any sort of widescale pattern. The human body, because of the early procreation tendencies, hasn't adapted for older age, and so there are all kinds of conditions that crop up in middle age that we haven't evolved past by selecting against those.

      Or maybe not -- but perhaps more likely fluoride.

      • by robot256 (1635039)

        Or maybe it is that evolutionary factors are rendered pretty much irrelevant after the hormone raging teens and early 20s -- by then most people who are going to reproduce have and problems that crop up later are not selected out on any sort of widescale pattern. The human body, because of the early procreation tendencies, hasn't adapted for older age, and so there are all kinds of conditions that crop up in middle age that we haven't evolved past by selecting against those.

        I've always thought it interesting how we treat our elders in human societies. Virtually all human cultures, which are just as much a product of evolution as our genetic code, generally include respect for their elders. I can't help but think that this trait gives an evolutionary advantage to their offspring because they are able to pass on more knowledge and wisdom to their children and grandchildren than if they just keeled over after their kids turned 21. It is certainly not a direct genetic effect, s

    • Re:Is it age? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by tunapez (1161697) on Monday January 09, 2012 @01:00PM (#38638720)

      We are what we eat! I don't doubt proper nutrition plays a role. However, I believe the brain is like any other muscle in our body. Use it and it stays healthy. Stare mindlessly at a screen with nothing but input for hours every night, every week for years and guess what...y0ur mind may not look like that marshmallow ass, but it functions just as well.

      Example: I know when clients/friends/family have been playing too much solitaire or wasting idle days staring at the vidiot box(lots more lately across the board), they are cognitively slower, like they're just waking up but it lasts hours. I concur with TFA as far as the older you get the more visible the fogginess. My neighbor, however, just turned 83 and is one smart SOB and fast as a whip with a timely jest or an answer to a pointed question. Him and his wife drive to breakfast with their 4 dogs loaded in the truck like clockwork, 9am everyday for at least the last 15 years. He watches sports and is constantly 'doing'. Smart ass helped me rebuild the trestles outside my bedroom window last Saturday, drilling 8" lags through 4" posts from the top of a 6' ladder, no less. I'm sure his wife being slightly younger(25years) may have something to do with his 'vim', too. YMMV.

    • by couchslug (175151)

      Perhaps all the above, but as I coast into dementia I'll have moobs to play with....

    • That was the point of running the large number of people through a long study with lots of statistics. There is a significant correlation with age. Correlation may not imply causation, but when it's a case of senescence backed up by the second law... that's some serious eyebrow waggling [xkcd.com].
      • That was the point of running the large number of people through a long study with lots of statistics. There is a significant correlation with age. Correlation may not imply causation, but when it's a case of senescence backed up by the second law... that's some serious eyebrow waggling [xkcd.com].

        Still doesn't solve the problem with selection bias. I would propose a stratum of middle age British civil servants may well pre select for a certain mind set - with long term implications on cognition, memory, physical prowess, etc.

        Still valid for the study population, but as always with population studies, extrapolating to different populations is always fraught with hazard.

        At least, I hope so, since I passed the 45 mark a while ago.

  • by wdef (1050680) on Monday January 09, 2012 @12:34PM (#38638322)
    Cognitive function is not all that counts in being successful in life. Emotional intelligence ('maturity'), judgement and experience ('wisdom') might increase with age and might be fair trade for a slight decline in raw processing power. Life can get easier post-50 with these skills.
    • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Monday January 09, 2012 @12:40PM (#38638426)

      In other words, youth and skill are no match for old age and treachery.

    • by Sockatume (732728) on Monday January 09, 2012 @12:45PM (#38638496)

      "Cognitive function" in this instance isn't a measure of "raw processing power":

      The Alice Heim 4-I (AH4-I) is composed of a series of 65 verbal and mathematical reasoning items of increasing difficulty.18 It tests inductive reasoning, measuring the ability to identify patterns and infer principles and rules. Participants had 10 minutes to do this section. Short term verbal memory was assessed with a 20 word free recall test. Participants were presented a list of 20 one or two syllable words at two second intervals and were then asked to recall in writing as many of the words in any order within two minutes.

      We used two measures of verbal fluency: phonemic and semantic.19 Participants were asked to recall in writing as many words beginning with “S” (phonemic fluency) and as many animal names (semantic fluency) as they could. One minute was allowed for each test; the observed range on these tests was 0-35. Vocabulary was assessed with the Mill Hill vocabulary test,20 used in its multiple choice format, consisting of a list of 33 stimulus words ordered by increasing difficulty and six response choices.

      Judgement, in particular, would suffer if one's ability to perform inductive reasoning was impaired.

      • by vlm (69642) on Monday January 09, 2012 @01:03PM (#38638768)

        "Cognitive function" in this instance isn't a measure of "raw processing power":

        The Alice Heim 4-I (AH4-I) is composed of a series of 65 verbal and mathematical reasoning items of increasing difficulty.18 It tests inductive reasoning, measuring the ability to identify patterns and infer principles and rules. Participants had 10 minutes to do this section. Short term verbal memory was assessed with a 20 word free recall test. Participants were presented a list of 20 one or two syllable words at two second intervals and were then asked to recall in writing as many of the words in any order within two minutes.

        We used two measures of verbal fluency: phonemic and semantic.19 Participants were asked to recall in writing as many words beginning with “S” (phonemic fluency) and as many animal names (semantic fluency) as they could. One minute was allowed for each test; the observed range on these tests was 0-35. Vocabulary was assessed with the Mill Hill vocabulary test,20 used in its multiple choice format, consisting of a list of 33 stimulus words ordered by increasing difficulty and six response choices.

        Judgement, in particular, would suffer if one's ability to perform inductive reasoning was impaired.

        Combine that with

        Disturbingly enough, even the youngest participants started declining immediately

        And you get the idea that "most people" do not do this, at all, as soon as they leave school. I'd be surprised if the result of a larger study would be anything other than decline begins at the graduation ceremony. I haven't done anything in that test for quite a few years other than the inductive reasoning, and thats only because I'm a weirdo; most Americans would rather die than think, so I'm sure they would do none of the above.

        Use it or lose it.

    • Especially when they put you in a nice home with young ladies delivering you food on trays?
  • Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bogtha (906264) on Monday January 09, 2012 @12:34PM (#38638330)

    Disturbingly enough, even the youngest participants started declining immediately

    Surely that means that cognitive decline begins earlier than 45 and the age range they studied was inadequate for measuring the onset of cognitive decline?

    • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Funny)

      by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@h a c k i sh.org> on Monday January 09, 2012 @12:47PM (#38638546)

      The lead author of the study is 51, so you can't really blame her for overlooking a few details...

    • We know from brain studies that our brains seem to peak in our mid 20s (although I've seen that number range to 40). Whether or not this translates into cognitive changes is debatable but I'd expect us to start having declines (usually speed of processing - how quickly we can handle information) around that time. However, other research (I can't find the citation right now) shows that for many of our other cognitive domains (other than processing speed) - memory, language, etc. - we see increases until the
  • by kurt555gs (309278) <kurt555gsNO@SPAMovi.com> on Monday January 09, 2012 @12:36PM (#38638348) Homepage

    This is why we should move the Social Security retirement age down to 55. It would free up jobs for the young, and let us old folks relax with our monthly check and medicare.

    • by boristdog (133725)

      Sir, your ideas intrigue me and I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

    • This is why we should move the Social Security retirement age down to 55. It would free up jobs for the young, and let us old folks relax with our monthly check and medicare.

      No, it needs to be lowered to 51.

      Says the guy with no agenda whatsoever...

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      A great idea with only two drawbacks. One, you'd lose the tax income from those retirees, and two, you'd have to pay out more money in social security to those retirees. Social security isn't exactly a drop in the bucket as it stands.

      http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/02/01/us/budget.html [nytimes.com]

      • by kurt555gs (309278)

        Sorry, it would work out. It would allow younger, more energetic ( and more cognitive ) people take the high paying jobs that are now given to old folks that really don't do anything but schedule meetings for more meetings. Business could afford to pay more because they would be more productive.

        • by gtall (79522)

          Scheduling meetings for more meetings doesn't have anything to do with age, it has to do with Business School Product rising like scum on a pond. They have no technical skills so they compensate by developing their people skills which, weirdly enough, involves lots of meeting with other people. Also, it helps to prevent the sort of backroom conspiracies they are involved in from being launched against themselves. First, if the lower level blighters are in meetings chaired by Business School Product, it is d

    • by roman_mir (125474)

      You are not thinking.

      Retirement should be moved down to 45, who needs stupid people?

      No, not good enough. We should move retirement age down to 35 - you'll at least have 10 years with the same cognitive abilities while retired.

      Of-course moving it down to 25 means you'll have 20 YEARS of fully intelligent (or whatever passes for intelligent nowadays) life in front of you.

      However if we move it down to 15, then it would be just awesome. Graduate from school and retire at about the same time. Work sucks anyway

  • by comrade k (787383) <comradek.gmail@com> on Monday January 09, 2012 @12:38PM (#38638386)
    Once again, Slashdot is the epitome of bad science reporting :)

    The study shows that in a group of people ranging from 45 - 70, they found that cognitive decline was present in all of them. That means that cognitive decline begins AT LEAST at 45. TFA says "As early as 45", which is technically true but sort of dishonest IMHO, and the original paper doesn't make any such explicit conclusions.

    Sigh.
    • by prefec2 (875483)

      The selected group of people are office people working for the administration. Therefore, they have not to learn new subjects on a daily basis (just other rules, even though they do not have to understand them, it is even recommended that they do not understand them (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bureaucracy [wikipedia.org] by Max Weber)).

  • Wrong parameters? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by adamchou (993073) on Monday January 09, 2012 @12:38PM (#38638402)
    The sample age was 45-70 and they found that cognitive decline started at 45? Shouldn't they have started sampling people in their 30's to see a better bell curve?
    • by jeffmeden (135043)

      The sample age was 45-70 and they found that cognitive decline started at 45? Shouldn't they have started sampling people in their 30's to see a better bell curve?

      A bell curve? What makes you think the rate of decline ever slows down?

      • by adamchou (993073)
        well if you go out enough, it definitely does stop and eventually reverse so that there is cognitive incline. if you don't determine where cognitive abilities plateau, then how can you ever determine where the start of cognitive decline is? that's the point i'm trying to make.
      • by vlm (69642)

        The sample age was 45-70 and they found that cognitive decline started at 45? Shouldn't they have started sampling people in their 30's to see a better bell curve?

        A bell curve? What makes you think the rate of decline ever slows down?

        Presumably the first derivative zeros out after death, unless you believe in all this zombie garbage, and we know that with little kids the 1st derivative is positive at least up to teenage years just via common sense, so a bell curve is not entirely unrealistic, if you assume a nice positive 1st d in youth, a leveling off and negative 1st d in adulthood and zeros at birth and death.

        Personally I think its more of an impulse response function. School is intellectually challenging, but its mostly at the star

  • by Hentes (2461350) on Monday January 09, 2012 @12:39PM (#38638416)

    The fact that even 45 year olds showed decline indicates that it starts earlier than the sample.

  • A lot younger (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mrquagmire (2326560) on Monday January 09, 2012 @12:39PM (#38638420)
    I'd be willing to bet it starts a lot younger than 45. I'm in my 30's and I've definitely noticed a difference in the last 10 years. Not a huge difference but a difference nonetheless.

    Think about it from an evolution perspective. After we find a mate, have offspring, and make sure they're able to at least somewhat fend for themselves, what do we need sharp cognition for anymore?
    • by King_TJ (85913)

      I agree - but as you hinted with your comment, I wonder how much has to do with life changes placing less emphasis on "mental gymnastics"? I doubt most people invest as much time/energy on learning new things outside school as they did while they were there. On top of that, as you progress from "entry level" career type positions to more "senior" ones, you tend to get promoted out of hands-on, problem-solving type positions and into managerial ones - where your people skills become more of a factor than yo

    • by timeOday (582209)
      It seems many people assumed that you grow to maturity, hit a plateau, remain exactly the same until you are pretty old, then start to decline. Is anything in biology like that? No. It is an arc. If you could somehow measure with enough sensitivity, there would be a single day on which you are ever so slightly better than you will ever be, before or after. But so what? The same is true of anything else, such as your height. You're still within a few percentage points of your maximum for many years b
      • by vlm (69642)

        No. It is an arc. If you could somehow measure with enough sensitivity, there would be a single day on which you are ever so slightly better than you will ever be, before or after. But so what? The same is true of anything else, such as your height.

        No cognitive noise level is too high, probably the daily standard deviation exceeds 20 IQ points or equivalent.

        Back when the kids were newborns and I got no sleep I pretty much just shambled thru the day in a haze. Another good one was back when I was young and drinking was new and exciting, hangover days. Another good one is when I have a cold or flu I may as well sleep all day because nothing's happening in my head.

        The opposite effect would be doing something new is great mental exercise. My first micr

    • by mini me (132455)

      I just turned 30, so it may be too soon to see the effects. However, I feel I'm in a better cognitive state now than ever before. I try to pick at least one day a week to learn something new, and that learning seems to get easier and easier. ...or maybe that is just distortion caused by cognitive decline.

  • by Alioth (221270) <no@spam> on Monday January 09, 2012 @12:39PM (#38638422) Journal

    I have to wonder what kind of jobs in the civil service the study group did, whether they were primarily civil service jobs which had more or less the same thing day in, day out - or whether they were civil service jobs that required frequent learning and active problem solving.

  • by Maximum Prophet (716608) on Monday January 09, 2012 @12:42PM (#38638462)
    Other research shows that you're not really a grown-up w.r.t. risk taking until age 25.

    So you've only got 20 good years. Use them wisely...
  • by prefec2 (875483) on Monday January 09, 2012 @12:46PM (#38638530)

    If you read the study (I know, nodbody does that), you could see that the test basis are office personell in administration. Compared to students and people working knowledge intesive areas, they do not have to learn that much new facts every day. As other studies (use google if you want) have shown, cognitive skills decline when you reduce the learning. In a German study they have shown that the decline starts earlier in people who left school with 16 and hand a job since then compared to academic personell or researcher who have to learn new stuff every day. The latter group hand only minimal decline in cognitive skills (much less than those shown in the study mentioned above for a 10 year period).

  • Two ways of looking at that, brains well preserved because unused or brains decaying because unused. I'm only half-joking about this. I spent nearly 10 years as the 'help' [a consultant] at the European Commission, I've never seen such a concentration of bright people, so totally unchallenged, except for sporadic inter-departmental turf wars. Use it or lose it?
  • Civil service booze must be weak.

  • Of all the sources of science reporting that are available in English, New Scientist is close to the bottom of the pile in terms of accuracy. Quite a few times I've read something they've reported, thought "that can't be right," then gone to the original study or press release and found that in fact, no, what they reported was not correct.
  • "Disturbingly enough, even the youngest participants started declining immediately."
    I'd say studies show that participating in studies causes decline.
  • As other posters have noted, a lot depends on how much you exercise your brain. Yes, I'm well past 45, and yes, I do draw blanks in the middle of a conversation sometimes... but truthfully, I did the same thing back in my 20's! Yet I still find plenty of time to do new things that work my brain. I think this is much more important than anything else.

    • by Kaz Kylheku (1484)

      If you didn't exercise your brain starting in childhood by going to school, you would be dumb as a brick.

      What requires training to acquire cannot be retained without ongoing training!!!

  • by clickety6 (141178) on Monday January 09, 2012 @01:08PM (#38638826)
    On the positive side all the people in the test were civil servants, so any cognitive decline wasn't noticeable and had no effect on their ability to perform their jobs!
  • by RandCraw (1047302) on Monday January 09, 2012 @01:17PM (#38638926)

    Yes, cognitive decline starts early. Nobody expects a 45 year old to be as quick witted as a 25 year old.

    But after a cursory scan of the study paper, I think the more interesting revelation is the greater cognitive decline in women vs men in the decade between age 45 and 55. Table 2 on page 8 of the study shows the following:

    Difference in score between age 45-49 and 55-59 (percent change):

    Facility, Men, Women
    Reasoning, -3.2, -11.4
    Memory, -3.6, -6.5
    Phonemic fluency,-2.9, -6.5
    Semantic fluency, -3.4, -7.9
    Vocabulary, 1.0, -7.4

    (Slashdot's brain damaged 'junk' filter forced me to mangle the table. Apologies.)

    This shows a much bigger drop in cognitive performance among women than men. Men fell about 3% in reasoning and memory while women fell 6 to 11 percent, or 2x or 3x FARTHER than men during those 10 years.

    The study also attempts to correct these results for education. A greater education diminishes the differential among men by perhaps .5 to 1% (subtractive difference in percentiles) and among women by 2 to 4%.

    I hope the authors will follow up with further analyses of this data. Clearly there are more compelling stories to tell than the simplistic takeaway, "Senility starts at 45".

  • What I remember from the news segment was that the study covered civil servants in Britain.

    As in people who don't use the little cognitive function that they have to begin with.

    Do people really think that something which is hard won by education and training will just maintain itself without any use?

  • by Dcnjoe60 (682885) on Monday January 09, 2012 @01:28PM (#38639114)

    Be careful with interpretation. The study is about detecting cognitive decline to help predict dementia. In the actual study summary (available through the links in the slashdot summary), the researchers reference other studies that show cognitive decline does not begin until 60 (Seattle study) and 55 (I forget which study). They, the researchers do not dispute this and talk about the need for additional research to determine better techniques to evaluate the decline.

    It is not news that cognitive decline occurs with advancing years. The research is about trying to detect the decline that leads to dementia at an earlier time so that treatments can be applied when they will have the most impact. The researchers state that dementia appears to be a process that progresses over 20 to 30 years, so if it manifests itself in the 60s, they are trying to see what evidence there is in the 40s.

    From my own personal observations, since I am now beyond the age 45 when they state decline begins. I would agree with that. There are somethings that I am not nearly at good at as I was ten years ago (remembering names of new people I meet or long lists of items). On the other hand, I've done some of my most productive research in the last few years.

    My own theory is that for many of the cognitive declines that the study found to be normal, we tend to compensate for (smart phones help tremendously with long lists. Before that PDAs or even daytimers). I also think, though, that with age, comes experience and very often experience provides insight that raw cognitive power might not see. So it is a trade off. There is a reason why we have a stereotype of the wisest people being older people.

    Put differently, if you needed heart surgery, would you want the cardiac surgeon just finished with their residency and at their cognitive prime or the 50 yr old surgeon, who has experience a slight decline in cognitive ability, but has performed the particular procedure 500 times?

  • So, the average Slashdot reader will achieve normal IQ at around age 80?

  • just turned 46 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bcrowell (177657) on Monday January 09, 2012 @01:55PM (#38639446) Homepage

    I just turned 46, and this is definitely true. I remember that we invaded Iraq, and I'm sure there must have been valid reasons for that, but I can't remember them. I clearly remember voting for Obama because he was a constitutional law professor who promised to restore civil liberties and the rule of law, but I can't remember anything he did to follow up on that. I seem to remember intentionally flying from SF to NY in 1986 without any form of ID, but obviously that can't be right, because if people had been able to do that for all those years, our country would have been immediately destroyed by terrorists.

  • Trade offs (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Cro Magnon (467622) on Monday January 09, 2012 @02:25PM (#38639804) Homepage Journal

    Speaking as an old guy (over 50), I probably don't learn new stuff as quickly as I used to. OTOH, I don't really need to, since most of the new stuff is similar to old stuff that I already know.

How many hardware guys does it take to change a light bulb? "Well the diagnostics say it's fine buddy, so it's a software problem."

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