Is there cognitive life after 30?

‘Cognitive decline begins in late 20s’ read the headline in a science update, striking gloom into the heart of this first-wave baby boomer. According to the study in question, I am four decades past the peak of my mental powers and entering very dangerous territory. On second thoughts, however, I see I have been handed the perfect alibi for my inability to solve Rubik’s cube, remember who is the husband of Angelina what’s-her-name, or see the point in cryptic advertisements. Nature is responsible, not me.

So here is the bad news, published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging. Some 2000 healthy, educated Americans aged 18 to 60 were tested over seven years on solving puzzles, remembering words and details from stories, and identifying patterns in an assortment of letters and symbols. Top performances in some tests were achieved at age 22. A notable decline in certain measures of abstract reasoning, brain speed and puzzle-solving became apparent at 27. Average memory declines can be detected by about 37. Sadly, much of it rings true…

But wait, there’s good news too. Accumulated knowledge skills, such as improvement of vocabulary and general knowledge, actually increase at least until 60. (Yes! I do know more words and things about the world than I did at 22.) In fact, the ability to acquire knowledge and integrate it with one’s abilities may increase throughout all of adulthood -- unless I get Alzheimers. If I don’t, says psychology professor Timothy Salthouse, I could be like most people, who “function at a highly effective level well into their final years, even when living a long life”. Phew, that’s a relief.

Which just goes to show that you should never judge an article by its headline. ~ Newswise, Mar 19


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