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New Research Shows Cognitive Decline Begins At 45

Unknown Lamer posted more than 2 years ago | from the shares-in-soylent-green-up dept.

Science 295

An anonymous reader writes "New research shows people might start to suffer from cognitive decline as early as age 45. The research, which looked at over 7000 people between the ages of 45 and 70 when the study started, watched participants over a 10 year period. Disturbingly enough, even the youngest participants started declining immediately."

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Well crap (5, Funny)

mr1911 (1942298) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638256)

I just turned 45 and don't feel any decline in my... wait, what were we talking about?

Re:Well crap (1)

Tyr07 (2300912) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638296)

Have you seen the general population these days? I'd consider that the upper range. I think cognitive decline starts right around when you become a teenager, and for a lot of people it just gets worse as they get older...

Re:Well crap (5, Insightful)

dpilot (134227) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638432)

The normal curve I've seen, in multiple places, is that cognitive function takes a sudden nosedive at about age 13, and typically recovers in the mid 20s. I wouldn't call that "cognitive decline" however, perhaps "puberty-induced temporary brain damage" would be more to the point.

Re:Well crap (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38638504)

>>puberty-induced temporary brain damage

- Girls and Pr0n!

Re:Well crap (5, Funny)

q.kontinuum (676242) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638628)

Maybe this explains the misconception of masturbation leading to brain damage ;-)

Re:Well crap (1)

Tyr07 (2300912) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638760)

I'd say 80% of the population continues their puberty-induced not-so-temporary brain damage well into their 40s.

Ever met an asshole? Now we know what happend.

Re:Well crap (1)

ohnocitizen (1951674) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638874)

Only to then nosedive again in the late 20s. I could have sworn that was when decline started. Though it is offset by other gains, maturity, perspective, it still bites. I want my machine augmented cognitive function now!

Re:Well crap (1)

alphatel (1450715) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638492)

Have you seen the general population these days?

The general population is so lost I think the whole country's in cognitive decline.

Re:Well crap (3, Funny)

Defenestrar (1773808) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638650)

Have you seen the general population these days? I'd consider that the upper range. I think cognitive decline starts right around when you become a teenager, and for a lot of people it just gets worse as they get older...

See - this is the problem with text based communication. I think you're making a joke here, but instead of modding you funny I have to stop to make sure you weren't seriously suggesting that the peak of human intellectual achievement is best observed in our teenagers. You weren't were you? Were you?

Re:Well crap (5, Funny)

blue trane (110704) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638818)

Lemme guess - you're over 45.

Not so fast (4, Insightful)

Brain-Fu (1274756) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638480)

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 (4, Insightful)

q.kontinuum (676242) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Not so fast (1)

hcs_$reboot (1536101) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638662)

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 (5, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Not so fast (4, Funny)

postbigbang (761081) | more than 2 years ago | (#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 (4, Insightful)

Aphoxema (1088507) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638738)

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 (4, Insightful)

couchslug (175151) | more than 2 years ago | (#38639004)

"Really, anyone who throws the idiot blanket over seniors (like I used to)"

Most people are idiots, and don't improve with age.

Re:Not so fast (5, Insightful)

Mitreya (579078) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

So... How old was the researcher? I guess 45? (1)

q.kontinuum (676242) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638260)

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

Re:So... How old was the researcher? I guess 45? (4, Funny)

jeffmeden (135043) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638464)

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

Wha? Were you part of the study?

Re:So... How old was the researcher? I guess 45? (4, Funny)

q.kontinuum (676242) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638514)

Don't know, can't remember anymore...

Re:So... How old was the researcher? I guess 45? (2, Insightful)

Defenestrar (1773808) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638736)

You're right, there's definitely a flaw in this scientific process: 7,000 subjects (British civil servants), eight authors (of mixed age, gender, and nationality), greater than a decade long study, rigorous statistics, peer review in a well respected journal, and... you.

Re:So... How old was the researcher? I guess 45? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38638942)

Oh well! If the statistics support it, then it's absolutely true, for every single individual!

Why is this a surprise? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38638262)

It's why people go to school when they're young and malleable. The brain is in learning mode when you're young, and in teaching mode when you're older. It's not a sudden transition, like flipping a switch. News at 11.

Re:Why is this a surprise? (3, Interesting)

mini me (132455) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638674)

It's why people go to school when they're young and malleable

If we lived in a world where the brain had no such limitations, would we send the kids to work as soon as they are able to and then worry about schooling later in their adult life?

Re:Why is this a surprise? (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638930)

There are probably other issues involved as well. Such as people who keep their minds sharp. A lot of people at around 45 start getting into retirement mode where their goal isn't to learn new things but just do the same thing until retirement.

well, duh (3, Insightful)

sribe (304414) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638266)

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

D&D says otherwise (5, Funny)

alphatel (1450715) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638272)

Did they properly consult the AD&D chart for character age [wizards.com] ? I show INT and especially WIS increasing over time.

Research shows... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38638284)

Cognitive decline coincides with participating in scientific studies! Film at 11.

lower than 45 (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38638298)

I thought cognitive decline already starts (slowly) around an age of 30. Therefore, it is strange this study does not consider people younger than 45.

Re:lower than 45 (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38638380)

This shows that the design of the study was seriously flawed.

They should've only studied participants 55 and older!

Is it age? (2, Interesting)

jason777 (557591) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638300)

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? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38638324)

Just turned 45, eh?

laziness is more likely (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38638382)

More likely its people just stop using their brains and continuing to learn new things.

Re:Is it age? (4, Insightful)

somersault (912633) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638404)

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? (4, Insightful)

anagama (611277) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638518)

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.

Re:Is it age? (0)

anagama (611277) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638556)

lame -- more likely THAN fluoride.

Re:Is it age? (-1, Troll)

The Askylist (2488908) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638654)

The study was carried out on British civil servants.

The 10-year period covered by the study happens to coincide with the last Labour government, which leads me to propose the alternative hypothesis that having to implement really stupid policies with all their inherent contradictions leads to excessive wear and tear on the brain.

The moral? Socialism is bad for you, especially if you're one of the ones doling it out.

Re:Is it age? (4, Interesting)

tunapez (1161697) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Is it age? (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638726)

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

Re:Is it age? (1)

Defenestrar (1773808) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638814)

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] .

I hope this fires up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38638306)

people's desire to fund a more serious approach to anti-aging and life extension. Otherwise I'm not sure who's going to be doing all this galaxy colonizing that's so important to Slashdotters.

Re:I hope this fires up (1)

Jhon (241832) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638350)

"Otherwise I'm not sure who's going to be doing all this galaxy colonizing that's so important to Slashdotters."

The Ira Howard Foundation.

Not all that counts (5, Insightful)

wdef (1050680) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Not all that counts (5, Insightful)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638426)

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

Re:Not all that counts (1)

sgt scrub (869860) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638478)

Well played. Very well played.

Re:Not all that counts (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38638466)

They don't increase. It's just that as everything else declines, they seem to be the only things that still work. Stop romanticizing aging. It's a decline of everything, there's nothing noble or great about it. I've been saying for years that peak human life is only about 10-20 years long, from late teens to early middle age. Before that you don't know enough, after that you're a piece of rotting meat waiting to get the news that it's dead.

Death is not an event, it's a process. As a process, it should be studied, understood, controlled and eventually stopped. It should be up to everyone to decide for themselves. Maybe some people don't want to live longer. Fine. Some of us do.

Stop death????? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38638554)

Spoken like a young person with no wisdom. The last thing we is people *not* dying.

Re:Stop death????? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638716)

The last thing we is people *not* dying.

That's a problem I'd love to have to deal with.

Re:Not all that counts (1)

cyberchondriac (456626) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638774)

They don't increase. It's just that as everything else declines, they seem to be the only things that still work. Stop romanticizing aging. It's a decline of everything, there's nothing noble or great about it. I've been saying for years that peak human life is only about 10-20 years long,

I don't think anyone was romanticizing aging, just making some valid observable points about the value of experience. Of course, since you say "I've been saying for years.." I guess we're to take your word as an authority on the subject?

Re:Not all that counts (1)

XrayJunkie (2437814) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638468)

Problem is, that most companys do not value this. I my opinion a shame, because experience is so important. (I am not THAT old, okay?)

Re:Not all that counts (4, Informative)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Not all that counts (4, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Not all that counts (1)

Defenestrar (1773808) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638824)

Especially when they put you in a nice home with young ladies delivering you food on trays?

Re:Not all that counts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38638852)

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.

Let me guess: you are over 45?

Huh? (5, Insightful)

Bogtha (906264) | more than 2 years ago | (#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? (4, Funny)

Trepidity (597) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638546)

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

Re:Huh? (2)

dogmatixpsych (786818) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638970)

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 ages 40-65 (depending on cognitive domain) - and then declines after that. What this means though is that by the time we are old (in our 70s), unless we've developed dementia or some cerebrovascular disease, our abilities are generally as good as they were when we were teenagers or in our early 20s. Basically, our abilities increase and then decrease so we end up not much worse off when we were young (and sometimes still better).

Yes, some areas of cognition do start declining earlier than 45 (probably in our mid 20s) but testing changes are not always significant in the real world. Our tests (neuropsychological/cognitive) do not have as much external (ecological) validity as we would like. So what if we decline? What does that mean for real-world performance? Not always as much as we might think. We are usually good at compensating for deficiencies.

To answer your question though, having 45+ in a longitudinal study is inadequate but better than what we've had in the past (at least with huge samples). These are a good set of data. I'm sure there are some methodological flaws in the study in how they handled repeat testing (my Master's thesis was about how to handle longitudinal cognitive data; i.e., how can we accurately analyze it, accounting for unexplained variance?) but the linear mixed models they used are pretty good statistics (I just don't think that the methods account adequately for regression to the mean and unpredictable test characteristics).

Ummmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38638338)

What were we talking about?

life is a fantastic voyage (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38638342)

as soon as we're born we start to die, i'm just trying to get a piece of that apple pie, and a place where my kids can play outside, without livin in fear of a drive by.

New retirement age needed (5, Interesting)

kurt555gs (309278) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638348)

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.

Re:New retirement age needed (1)

arkane1234 (457605) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638440)

Unfortunately, I'm looking at 72 :(
With the physical damage I've taken in life, I'll be DEAD by that time lol

Re:New retirement age needed (1)

boristdog (133725) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638442)

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

Re:New retirement age needed (2)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638448)

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...

Re:New retirement age needed (1)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638808)

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]

What about wisdom? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38638384)

Grokking something is one thing, but I can tell you from personal experience that my grandfather who only made it to the 3rd grade is incredibly wise. He foresaw the dot-com bubble in 2000, the housing crash now and countless other things to which at the time I thought he was foolish and didn't understand how the world changed. I was the fool! Should the Zombie apocalypse occur I would much rather be with him, than a bunch of 44 year olds with nothing but book smarts. Intelligence is important but it's often over emphasized.

Re:What about wisdom? (4, Funny)

jeffmeden (135043) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638502)

Should the Zombie apocalypse occur I would much rather be with him, than a bunch of 44 year olds with nothing but book smarts. Intelligence is important but it's often over emphasized.

Be honest, the reason you want him around is so you won't be the slowest one running away when the zombie stampede starts...

Slashdot fails again (5, Insightful)

comrade k (787383) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Slashdot fails again (1)

prefec2 (875483) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638592)

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)).

Re:Slashdot fails again (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38638696)

New research shows that participating in cognitive research studies causes cognitive decline.

Wrong parameters? (3, Insightful)

adamchou (993073) | more than 2 years ago | (#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?

Re:Wrong parameters? (2)

jeffmeden (135043) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638526)

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?

Re:Wrong parameters? (1)

adamchou (993073) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638876)

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.

Re:Wrong parameters? (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638968)

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 start of life, so a sharp spike up followed by a lifelong smooth decline to the much lower TV watching level.

I have seen this thru my life, that people with dumb hobbies seem to end up dumb even when they're not doing their hobby, and the opposite is true that people with hobbies that require some brains seem to end up smart in general. This isn't just a thinly veiled "I'm great because I post to /." claim, I'm thinking of relatives with wildly different interests that are technically challenging, like my hot rod engine blueprinter relative, or my relative who was something of an amateur fashion designer (the topological problems of covering a very 3-dimensional woman with 2-dimensional fabric, although expressed totally informally, are actually kind of challenging). Oh and my master welder and general fabricator great uncle at near 90 is more thoughtful than most 40 year olds I know. On the other hand the relative who spent decades behaving as if judge judy is too intellectual is not doing so well mentally. I'm using relatives because I've known them pretty well over a long term. The "my hobby is watching TV" type don't do as well after retirement as the "my hobby is tuning up chevy small blocks" type, even if both of them spend most of their time sitting on their butts.

It begins earlier (2)

Hentes (2461350) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638416)

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

A lot younger (4, Insightful)

mrquagmire (2326560) | more than 2 years ago | (#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?

Re:A lot younger (2)

King_TJ (85913) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638602)

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 your technical skills.

By contrast, we've got people like Stephen Hawking out there, who at age 70, seem to still be exceptionally sharp, mentally.

Re:A lot younger (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38638748)

I'm 32 with no mate. Hooray for being a Slashdotter. No sex, but at least I have cognition!

Re:A lot younger (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638896)

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 before and after, and many other factors changing within and around you all the time are more significant until the decline is much more advanced. You are continually changing in many ways, so "decline" is not a discrete thing that is either happening or not - not unless you measure along a single narrow axis. So the whole point is moot without a considering the effect size.

Re:A lot younger (1)

mini me (132455) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638928)

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.

More in-depth investigation (2)

Alioth (221270) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638422)

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.

article title fail (1)

archen (447353) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638436)

"as early as 45" not the same as "at 45"

Not an adult until 25 (2)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 2 years ago | (#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...

Not news - IQ tests have to be normalised for age (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38638516)

This is not new. For a long time IQ test results have been normalised by age to ensure that 100 is the average score not just over the whole population, but also within each age-range slice. In such normalisations, decline is apparent from well before 45. ...But let's not get obsessed with the pros and cons of IQ as a metric. For all it's flaws it is some sort of measure of cognitive ability.

Real causes of cognitive decline (4, Interesting)

prefec2 (875483) | more than 2 years ago | (#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).

These are civil servants (1)

hughbar (579555) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638536)

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?

Way to hold that liquor (1)

sgt scrub (869860) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638544)

Civil service booze must be weak.

Television anyone? (1)

gedankenhoren (2001086) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638600)

I can't find a better source in the brief time I have, but observe the following:
http://www.bls.gov/news.release/atus.t11.htm

This table shows breakdown of leisure activities by age. Note the rather large increase in TV hours between category 35-44 and 45-54. And note the rather large drop in chitchat hours between those same categories.

(This explanation does suffer from the fact that the youngest participants in this study are age 45.)

New Scientist is worthless (1)

Scholasticus (567646) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638638)

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.

I began mine at age 4.5 or so (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638640)

Curse you, Saturday Morning Cartoons!

Immediately? (2)

hackwrench (573697) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638698)

"Disturbingly enough, even the youngest participants started declining immediately."
I'd say studies show that participating in studies causes decline.

ages of chess champions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38638734)

Wikipedia has tables of world chess champions [wikipedia.org] in the various eras (by governing body), along with age of the champion.

It seems that chessplayers age somewhat like golfers... they tend to peak around age 25-40, although there are outstanding exceptions who can still compete at the top level in their 40's and even 50's. Players accumulate chess-specific skill and experience as they age, of course, as well as self-management and other practical skills, counterbalancing any decline in faculties, so this age range may be skewed to the high side of the "true" cognitive peak.

Meaningless (1)

ATestR (1060586) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638790)

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.

On the positive side... (3, Funny)

clickety6 (141178) | more than 2 years ago | (#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!

The thing is (1)

koan (80826) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638858)

Most people are not fit nor do they have good eating habits at any age much less their 40's, to much fat, sugar and salt will lead to an earlier decline, so someone that exercises regularly and eats fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and no sugar are going to have far less decline than the average American.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroplasticity#Fitness_and_Exercise [wikipedia.org]
http://www.livescience.com/2675-good-diet-exercise-brain-healthy.html [livescience.com]

Look around you at all the people you see in the 40's, how many of them are overweight? How many obese? I would say that the environmental challenges (food, food additives) people face are the most likely cause of early decline in brain function.

On top of all that most people stop challenging their brains at around 35 moving forward so if you don't use it you lose it.

The best part of the study is gender gap, not age (2)

RandCraw (1047302) | more than 2 years ago | (#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".

Experiment distorts results? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38638938)

Most people experience cognitive decline and sever depression when they realize that they are in a study conducted by British researchers and there is no escape.

Who cares? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38639010)

In my experience most people plod their way through life and never really use their brain except to prevent their skull from collapsing in on itself. How can you miss something you never really used?

You're late, Dot; this was on tee vee days ago! (1)

Kaz Kylheku (1484) | more than 2 years ago | (#38639016)

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?

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