Quick study: Cognitive abilities in aging

THE QUESTION Why do some people keep their cognitive abilities as they age while others do not?

THIS STUDY followed 2,509 healthy people, in their 70s at the start of the study, who periodically were given standardized tests of cognitive function, including memory and thinking skills. Over eight years, about 53 percent showed normal age-related decline in cognition, 16 percent had major decline and 30 percent maintained their cognitive abilities. Compared with those who experienced normal declines, people who maintained cognitive functions were nearly three times as likely to be at least high school graduates, 30 percent more likely to get at least moderate exercise regularly and almost twice as likely to not smoke. They also were more apt to work or volunteer regularly, to live with someone, to have more than one alcoholic drink a day and to rate their health as good, very good or excellent (rather than fair or poor).

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? People 70 and older. Cognitive decline is no longer considered a normal part of aging; rather, most people today retain their thinking skills, although their memory often works at a slower pace with age.

FIND THIS STUDY June 9 issue of Neurology.

LEARN MORE ABOUT memory and aging at www.nia.nih.gov (search for "memory") and www.familydoctor.org (search for "memory loss").

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.

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