Brain function can start declining 'as early as age 45'

 
Memory loss (generic image) Individuals were tested for memory, vocabulary and aural and visual comprehension skills

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The brain's ability to function can start to deteriorate as early as 45, suggests a study in the British Medical Journal.

University College London researchers found a 3.6% decline in mental reasoning in women and men aged 45-49.

They assessed the memory, vocabulary and comprehension skills of 7,000 men and women aged 45 to 70 over 10 years.

The Alzheimer's Society said research was needed into how changes in the brain could help dementia diagnoses.

Previous research had suggested that cognitive decline does not begin much before the age of 60.

But the results of this study show that it could in fact begin in middle age.

This is important, the researchers say, because dementia treatments are more likely to work at the time when individuals start to experience mental impairment.

The UCL researchers tested the cognitive functions of 5,198 men and 2,192 women aged 45 to 70, who were all UK civil servants, from 1997 to 2007.

Individuals were tested for memory, vocabulary and aural and visual comprehension skills.

Differences in education level were taken into account.

Mid-life crisis

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.

Professor Archana Singh-Manoux from the Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health in France, who led the research team at University College London, said the evidence from the study showed that dementia involved cognitive decline over two to three decades.

Dr Anne Corbett, Alzheimer's Society: 'There are things people can do to reduce their chances of getting dementia later down the line'

"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.

"Rates of dementia are going to soar and health behaviours like smoking and physical activity are linked to levels of cognitive function.

"It's important to identify the risk factors early. If the disease has started in an individual's 50s but we only start looking at risk in their 60s, then how do you start separating cause and effect?"

Lifestyle choices

Start Quote

If the disease has started in an individual's 50s but we only start looking at risk in their 60s, then how do you start separating cause and effect?”

End Quote Professor Archana Singh-Manoux UCL

Dr Anne Corbett, research manager at the Alzheimer's Society, said the study added to the debate on when cognitive decline began, but it left some questions unanswered.

"The study does not tell us whether any of these people went on to develop dementia, nor how feasible it would be for GPs to detect these early changes.

"More research is now needed to help us fully understand how measurable changes in the brain can help us improve diagnosis of dementia."

Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said he wanted to see similar studies carried out in a wider population sample.

He added: "Previous research suggests that our health in mid-life affects our risk of dementia as we age, and these findings give us all an extra reason to stick to our New Year's resolutions.

"Although we don't yet have a sure-fire way to prevent dementia, we do know that simple lifestyle changes - such as eating a healthy diet, not smoking, and keeping blood pressure and cholesterol in check - can all reduce the risk of dementia."

Professor Lindsey Davies, president of the Faculty of Public Health, said that people should not wait until their bodies and minds broke down before taking action.

"We need only look at the problems that childhood obesity rates will cause if they are not addressed to see how important it is that we take 'cradle to grave' approach to public health."

 

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  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 359.

    345. Retired at Fifty
    332. JonDM
    If this is the case then why is the government going to make us all work longer?

    They aren't. The clever ones don't rely on state funded pensions.

    No, they work in banks and bleed the rest of us try like the parasites they are.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 358.

    @ 01 'Chris'. Regarding memory problems of new mothers.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Yes, there is clinical evidence to suggest that many women do experience, post partum, the effects of dramatic changes in hormone levels. As high, or low levels, of hormones are carried via the circulatory systems, any sudden changes, after full gestation will have a marked effect. We musn't forget still-birth or miscarriage.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 357.

    My brain won't fade cos' I'm a helicopter...

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 356.

    345.Retired at Fifty
    10 Minutes ago
    332. JonDM

    If this is the case then why is the government going to make us all work longer?

    --

    They aren't. The clever ones don't rely on state funded pensions.
    =
    Its not about reliance - its a case of getting what you are legally entitled to and have worked to pay for.. as I and many others have.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 355.

    @346
    ***

    Don't forget to take care of that...help your folks I mean. As you/I are aware there are people out there who prey upon the goodness of the elderly. Sad isn't it, that our folks live a life and yet there are those who use them. I don't know what part of the brain that falls under.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 354.

    What happened to the "wise old owl"

    Does anybody give a "hoot" any more ?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 353.

    Here we go again...! What are they going to do about it? Perhaps someone will tell them we start to die from the day we are born and that we lose body tissue everyday!

    They would be right in saying there are folks in this world who are either thick, semi intelligent or intelligent... and some who's brains never been connected to a blood supply!

    Brain exorcises are due folks and no AWOL

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 352.

    As someone who has restarted study in retirement, I am very interested in how the mind of an older person copes; from an unrepresentative personal experience, I believe the habit of learning developed in childhood lays the foundations for learning in later life. I have to thank some very dedicated teachers from 40-50 years ago for that.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 351.

    Once over 45, three things happen:-
    1 - your memory starts to go
    2 - for the life of me, I can't remember the other two

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 350.

    This explains why this country still has ridiculously slow internet and the Digital Economy Bill passed. The average age of a member of parliment is 50 (As of 2010). Please can we have more politicians who are not completely out of touch?

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 349.

    Re #141
    I also remembered that Y was worth only 4 points and M is worth 3 points, not 10 and 2 as shown, however didn't notice that there was only six letters. Maybe the article has got something right after all.

    The BBC set a trick trap for all us oldies, but most of us didn't spot it? Are Journalists that clever?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 348.

    They measure cognition in isolation over 10 years and fail to include some basic blood test such as blood glucose or CRP. They do not include a simple BMI measure or more importantly hip to waist ratio. The only thing this tells us is that either previous tests were inaccurate or the rate of cognition decline has accelerated due to factors they didn't consider. My money's on hyperinsulinaemia.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 347.

    Am I missing something? The declines mentioned don't say where the peak was (or even if it was a decline from the peak or some other arbitrary point). This could mean virtually anything.

    BTW the 1997-2007 part is the study period (not necessarily the individuals' period of measurement). The cohort age spread is a separate variable too.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 346.

    The best evidence of cognitive decline with age I have seen is in the overly simplistic right wing propaganda emails my 80-something parents forward to me on a daily basis.

    It seems overconfident oldsters are more easily deceived by big lies (repeated many times) than by little ones.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 345.

    332. JonDM

    If this is the case then why is the government going to make us all work longer?

    --

    They aren't. The clever ones don't rely on state funded pensions.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 344.

    Personally I think the Biblical 3 score years and 10 is still the best guide to our human state. No human brain function is the same. I worked as a physciatric nurse and have seen dementia patients in thier early 50s. Late 40s is still a critical time for people taking mental breakdowns, due to the 15-20 year stress curve peaking at that time. Relaxation is as vital as excerise.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 343.

    I would tend to question this report from my own point. At the age of 45 I went to university and obtained a BDc (Hons) and a MSc.

    I must have been a genius before then.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 342.

    I have not read this article, but your report suggests the sample is large for this type of study and conducted over 10 years. That can be expensive and to be applauded. They looked at memory, which is subject to aging and vocabulary and comprehensive which typically show resilience. Westerberg and Klingberg in Sweden suggest cognitive ability,including working memory, in adults can be enhanced.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 341.

    By the time you are are 45 most people will have settled into a job without much new to learn and just coast along. Without constant challenges perhaps it is natural to lose some of our brain power. The brain needs to be exercised to stay fit. I'm doing a masters in engineering which is certainly shifting a lot of dust from the gray matter.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 340.

    I have always thought that I was in my prime at 45 & now we have the research to back that up. That said, I think it will be a while before I start to feel outgunned intellectually because our eduction system and our culture of superficiality has left so many ill equipped to apply any kind of process of critical thought.

 

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