January 06, 2012

My brain is already falling apart

A new study says that people start losing their brain powers as early as 45 years of age.

The results of the tests show that cognitive scores declined in all categories except vocabulary - and there was a faster decline in older people.

The study found a 9.6% decline in mental reasoning in men aged 65-70 and a 7.4% decline for women of the same age.

For men and women aged 45-49, there was a 3.6% decline.

Since my work involves mainly words, the lack of decline in vocabulary skills may be masking my decrepitude.

The study can be read here.


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There we go then: FDR was right after all to propose adding a new Justice to the Supreme Court for every member over seventy and a half. Those demented old goats can't be trusted with such vital national questions. ;)

More seriously, it's the young zealots appointed by Bush that we should be most worried about today. A decaying brain that harbors good ideas is infinitely preferable to a fresh young head full of Ayn Rand's positivism and an accompanying fondness for corporations.

Posted by Richard Frost on January 6, 2012 05:01 PM

A couple of years ago, I saw an item on a woman who was over 60 years old working as a showgirl (dancer) in Las Vegas. Do you think she _started_ working as a showgirl in her 60s, or when she was in her 20s and kept doing it for decades? Obviously, the latter. Her body was fit and agile because she had constantly been in shape year round for decades.

The brain is a muscle like any other. It's easier to stay physically fit throughout your life than it is to get back in shape after years of laziness and ill health, and the same is likely true of the brain, too. I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out that all those who kept their mental faculties as they aged were highly educated and highly motivated individuals, while those whose brains failed them early were less curious and less mentally fit. If the researchers didn't look into that, they should have.

Ronald Reagan and Stephen Hawking are a good arguments for that idea. Reagan suffered dementia and possibly alzheimer's disease in his 70s; too bad he was still president for several of those years. Meanwhile, Hawking has hit 70 and is still mentally brilliant because that's all he has, his mind is his work and life. He's constantly doing mental exercises, keeping his brain intact.

I think it's not just mental, but physical too. Fauja Singh runs marathons at age 100, and in interviews seems mentally spritely as well. Maybe I'm right, maybe I'm not, but I'd hazard a guess that working out both physically (running, cycling, lifting weights) and mentally (reading, debating, puzzle magazines, studying French) isn't going to hurt me in my mid-40s nor anyone else. It's better to be doing it than not doing it.


Posted by P Smith on January 7, 2012 04:47 AM

That should read "sprightly", not "spritely".

Maybe my mind *is* going south after all.


Posted by P Smith on January 7, 2012 04:53 AM

P Smith,

Actually the brain is not a muscle in reality but it turns out that using the metaphor of a muscle for the brain works well in developing way to improve brain functioning, so your suggestions still hold. Psychologist Carol Dweck has done important work in this area.

What some recent studies have suggested is not just that you keep it active by doing mentally challenging tasks but that novelty is also important. While doing crossword puzzles helps the brain, doing only crossword puzzles as your mental stimulus loses its effectiveness after a while. It is good to try new things. Hawking is always moving on to new problems.

The problem with age is the danger of getting set in one habits so that novelty disappears and is replaced by routine.

Posted by Mano on January 7, 2012 09:59 AM

Regular crosswords, sudoku and word searches are for wimps, especially those like the New York Times or your local paper. They're good for children and those with poor vocabularies, but they're not going to make you think or work.

I prefer cryptics, it takes days to solve one of these. You have to solve one clue at a time and let it sit in your head for hours.

I also like figure logics, though they are rarer because they're hard to make.

And logic puzzles are also good, though most are about collecting and organizing information, not thinking.


Posted by P Smith on January 7, 2012 02:34 PM

I used to enjoy the cryptic crossword in The Nation magazine but its creator Frank Lewis retired last year after doing it for nearly fifty years and I have not found a good substitute. I may try your suggestions. Thanks!

Posted by Mano on January 7, 2012 08:27 PM

The Guardian has (or seems to have) their entire history of cryptics online, over 25,000 in all. That should be enough to keep you busy for the rest of your life.

My old man is a British ex-pat and we had the Guardian in my house as a kid, back in the 1970s. It's where I was first exposed to them. You can also find cryptics and other challenging puzzles in GAMES magazine and Dell's Math Puzzles and Logic Problems issues at your local magazine stand.


Posted by P Smith on January 8, 2012 11:04 AM

Well it looks like I've got a few more years of full strength brain power to go yet then, since I'm only 31 years old.

By the time I'm over 65 I'm hoping I won't need to worry about my brain power and want to find myself relaxing and enjoying retirement.

Posted by Mike on January 9, 2012 04:55 AM

You can subscribe to periodical puzzle magazines like "Games magazine" that typically have a few cryptocrosswords per month. I find those ones to be easier than the guardian ones but harder than the nation ones on average.

3/3 people agree, cryptics are the superior crossword puzzle.

Posted by Jared A on January 9, 2012 10:58 AM

The study is interesting but I wish it had compared or separated the results for working and retired. As everyone has mentioned crosswords/sudokus/cryptics are good for keeping the brain sharp but I would tend to believe people who are actively working would have a lessened cognitive decline then those retired.

Posted by Andrew Scott on January 10, 2012 01:19 AM

I'm in my 50s and have found a daily dessert spoon of coconut oil helps to improve my memory.

When I stop taking the oil I notice a marked difference in my mental capacities.

Try it and see if it works for you too!

Posted by Ed on January 13, 2012 06:06 AM