When Do Mental Powers Decline?
When can you expect your cognitive abilities to start declining
due to age? For most of you reading this the process has already
begun. Recent research at the University of Virginia (reported
on BBC Online) found that many of our mental powers may peak
by age 22 and start to decline by age 27.
The research was done with 2,000 healthy people aged 18 to
60, over a period of seven years. Participants had to spot patterns
in letters and symbols, solve puzzles, and recall words or story
details. The tests used were apparently very much like those
used by doctors to identify Alzheimer's symptoms or signs of
other forms of dementia. The results were published in the journal
Neurobiology of Aging.
In the majority of the tests (nine out of twelve) mental abilities
peaked at age 22. As mentioned above declines were noted (on
average of course - not universally) starting at age 27. Those
declines were found on tests of visual puzzle-solving ability,
brain speed, and reasoning.
Now for the good news. Memory seems to stay intact until later
in life - but not much later. It was found that declines in test
scores for memory started at an average age of just 37.
But there was one area in which our mental powers seemed to
persist and even grow stronger throughout life (or at least until
the age of the oldest participants in the study, which was 60).
Those are the mental abilities based on accumulated knowledge.
These were measured by performance on tests of vocabulary or
Some doctors commenting on the study suggest that we need
to intervene at a much younger age to prevent diseases such as
Alzheimer's or even just to prevent a general decline in brain
function. That's not a bad idea if such interventions are safe
(and work), but they are primarily referring to drugs and other
medical treatments. There are other ways to address this problem
For example, certainly a man who is 60 and learns memory techniques
can have effectively remember important things better than when
he was 30. Mental exercises can also slow the age-related decline
of our brain functions.