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You’re Not Getting Alzheimer’s; You Just Know So Much

DOES AGE LEAD to deterioration of brain function, or do older brains just take longer to process ever increasing amounts of knowledge? The latest research may surprise you.
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What happens to our cognitive abilities as we age? Traditionally it is thought that age leads to a steady deterioration of brain function, but important research in Topics in Cognitive Science argues that older brains may take longer to process ever increasing amounts of knowledge, and this has often been misidentified as declining capacity.

Increased Knowledge

The study, led by Dr. Michael Ramscar of the University of Tuebingen, takes a critical look at the measures that are usually thought to show that our cognitive abilities decline across adulthood. Instead of finding evidence of decline, the team discovered that most standard cognitive measures are flawed, confusing increased knowledge for declining capacity.

More Data Takes More Time

Dr. Ramscar’s team used computers, programmed to act as though they were humans, to read a certain amount each day, learning new things along the way. When the researchers let a computer ‘read’ a limited amount, its performance on cognitive tests resembled that of a young adult. However, if the same computer was exposed data which represented a lifetime of experiences, its performance looked like that of an older adult. Often it was slower, not because its processing capacity had declined, but because increased “experience” had caused the computer’s database to grow, giving it more data to process, and that processing takes time.

“What does this finding mean for our understanding of our ageing minds, for example older adults’ increased difficulties with word recall? These are traditionally thought to reveal how our memory for words deteriorates with age, but Big Data adds a twist to this idea,” said Dr. Ramscar. “Technology now allows researchers to make quantitative estimates about the number of words an adult can be expected to learn across a lifetime, enabling the team to separate the challenge that increasing knowledge poses to memory from the actual performance of memory itself.”

Rethinking the Aging Mind

“Imagine someone who knows two people’s birthdays and can recall them almost perfectly. Would you really want to say that person has a better memory than a person who knows the birthdays of 2000 people, but can ‘only’ match the right person to the right birthday nine times out of ten?” asks Ramscar.

“It is time we rethink what we mean by the aging mind before our false assumptions result in decisions and policies that marginalize the old or waste precious public resources to remediate problems that do not exist,” said Ramscar.


SOURCE:
Topics in Cognitive Science, Editors Wayne Gray and Thomas Hills.

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Anonymous
Anonymous
February 19, 2015 9:12 pm

I am 69 years old and just had a conversation along this line with my 34 year old daughter. Thanks for sharing this research!

Anonymous
Anonymous
February 20, 2015 12:54 pm

My mind is like a slow computer. It sometimes takes a while, but I still get the answer.

Unknown
Unknown
September 16, 2015 3:07 pm

I read a book on this subject at least twenty years ago. The author, I don't remember who she is, presented her basic idea this way. Ask a sixteen year old a question on an important matter and you have an immediate answer. Not much learning or experience to sort through. Ask the same question of a seventy-six year old and it takes longer to get an answer. The seventy-six year old has an additional sixty years of learning and experience to sort through before offering an answer.

I have often heard the age of sixteen referred to as the age of omniscience. By the time you are seventy-six, you have learned that there is no such age. He has also learned to think before he speaks.

Robert Chapman aka Bob
Robert Chapman aka Bob
November 28, 2016 1:06 pm

Amen.

Susan's Sewing Den
Susan's Sewing Den
July 16, 2017 5:00 pm

My dad lost his ability to communicate when he had Alzheimer.Why is this happening?

Unknown
Unknown
Reply to  Susan's Sewing Den
March 22, 2018 7:49 am

Because the part of the brain that processes sound to understand speech and produce responses is badly affected by loss of connections to the parts of the brain. The brain in this area shrinks, and this often starts happening early in the disease process.

Anonymous
Anonymous
December 16, 2018 4:16 pm

Slowing of response is one of the perils of age. I now (86) must be very careful driving, eg when I approach a corner, I look right, no traffic, look left, no traffic, but by the time I have processed both ways I am still not sure. Phil.

Unknown
Unknown
December 17, 2018 12:34 am

Thank you, my significant other is more and more non-communicative even with others and he is now starting to not remember basic words for objects. When talking to people he can't make complete sentences, this helps know why.

Roger
Roger
October 28, 2019 4:55 pm

I am 85 in the UK. When I am asked a question I can say "I know that", but it can take an hour or two to get to the top of the pile, depending how long ago it was it can be tomorrow before I can answer.
I knew this before reading this article.
Roger King Cheshire

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This site was inspired by my Mom’s autoimmune dementia.

It is a place where we separate out the wheat from the chafe, the important articles & videos from each week’s river of news. Google gets a new post on Alzheimer’s or dementia every 7 minutes. That can overwhelm anyone looking for help. This site filters out, focuses on and offers only the best information. it has helped hundreds of thousands of people since it debuted in 2007. Thanks to our many subscribers for your supportive feedback.

The site is dedicated to all those preserving the dignity of the community of people living with dementia.

Peter Berger, Editor

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This site was inspired by my Mom’s autoimmune dementia.

It is a place where we separate out the wheat from the chafe, the important articles & videos from each week’s river of news. Google gets a new post on Alzheimer’s or dementia every 7 minutes. That can overwhelm anyone looking for help. This site filters out, focuses on and offers only the best information. It has helped hundreds of thousands of people since it debuted in 2007. Thanks to our many subscribers for your supportive feedback.

The site is dedicated to all those preserving the dignity of the community of people living with dementia.

Peter Berger, Editor

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