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Published on: January 30, 2014
by Kathleen Kees for Science World Report:
Michael Ramscar, a linguistics researcher at the University of Tubingen in Germany, addresses the issues of knowledge and the aging brain. He asks a critical question regarding memory and age: Who has better memory? The young person who knows a little and remembers all of it, or the older person who has learned a lot and forgets a little of it?
Ramscar became interested in this very question several years ago. He had just read that turning 45 was the beginning of cognitive decline as he hit his 45th birthday. Yet he recalls thinking, according to National Geographic: “That doesn’t make sense to me; 99 percent of the people I look up to intellectually, who keep me on my mettle are older than I am.”
After thorough research, Ramscar came to the conclusion that many memory tests are simply asking the wrong questions. For instance, though older individuals may take longer to come up with answers, their answers may be more thorough and specific, and not necessarily a sign of dementia.
“I could see precious little evidence of decline in [the models of] healthy, older people,” he said, via the news organization. “Their slowness and slight forgetfulness were exactly what I’d expect” because with more to draw on, there are more places to search, and there’s more information to search through to find an answer.
Researchers note that the older brain typically is slower due to extra stored information that has been secured over the years. Though many imaging studies also show that healthy aging brains over time shrink slightly–showing signs of aging that may also demonstrated a decrease in reason, memory and learning–the capacity of the organ in elders is often times misinterpreted.
However, researchers believe that the slowdown in mental cue retrieval may also play a role with the amount of memories storied in the brain over the years.
“It may be true that knowledge slows down the system, but that doesn’t mean that the system, as it ages, doesn’t also operate more slowly,” Denise Park, co-director of the Center for Vital Longevity at the University of Texas at Dallas, via the news organization. “I would argue that the amount of knowledge allows us to compensate for the slowdown.”
In the end, no matter what you believe, keeping an aging brain mentally alert and active is an important part of memory retriveal and prevention of cognitive decline.
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