Saturday, January 7, 2012

Short Sharp Science

Cognitive decline sets in as early as 45essica Hamzelou, contributor

The forgetfulness and clouded reasoning normally associated with ancient grandparents may kick in earlier than thought. A new study suggests that the cognitive functions of people as young as 45 may already be on the decline.
In the study, Archana Singh-Manoux at University College London and her colleagues assessed the cognitive abilities of 7390 people at three points over a 10-year period. The participants were aged between 45 and 70 at the start of the study in 1997. At each of the three test points, Singh-Manoux's team assessed each participant on their verbal and mathematical reasoning, vocabulary and verbal memory and fluency.
The team found that individuals from all age groups experienced a decline in cognitive function over the ten year period - even those aged between 45 and 49. The suggestion that the ageing brain starts to deteriorate in the mid-forties will come as a surprise to many, particularly given a recent review that concluded such decline occurs primarily over the age of 60.

Perhaps less surprisingly, the group found that the older study participants experienced the greatest decline in cognitive function. Men aged between 65 and 70 at the start of the study showed an average 9.6 per cent decline in test performance over 10 years, compared with a decline of 3.6 per cent in the 45 to 50-year-olds. Women in the oldest age bracket showed a decline of around 7.4 per cent, compared with a 3.6 per cent performance drop in the youngest female participants.
The findings suggest that early signs of dementia could be identified in people in their 40s, who may be able to start preventative therapies, says Francine Grodstein at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston in an accompanying editorial.
"As yet, there is no cure for dementia, and accumulating evidence indicates that effective interventions will need to be administered long before marked neurodegeneration has occurred," she writes. New research into dementia should also strive to include participants from younger age groups, she adds.
Singh-Manoux agrees: "We now need to look at who experiences cognitive decline more than the average and how we stop the decline. Some level of prevention is definitely possible," she said in an interview with the BBC.
But Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, points out that further research is needed before this early decline can be linked to full-blown dementia. "Although this study didn't look at dementia, it would be important to follow up these participants to see which people go on to develop the condition."

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