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Aging News & Information

Proof that Aging Brain is Sharp as Ever, Just Takes Longer to Process Years of Data

New research indicates senior citizen’s brain is like a computer with too much information gathered over decades of use, rather than cognitive decline

By Tucker Sutherland, editor, SeniorJournal.com

Tucker Sutherland, editor, SeniorJournal.comJan. 21, 2014 – I have been telling my grandkids this for years – the reason it takes me awhile to recall information is that my brain just contains so much more information than it did when I was younger. Now, there is research to prove I am right. The study argues that the brains of senior citizens take longer to process “ever increasing amounts of knowledge,” and this has been misidentified as declining cognitive ability due to aging.

Traditionally most people have believed that age leads to a steady deterioration of brain function, but this research in Topics in Cognitive Science finds that is just not the case.

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 as we age. Instead of finding evidence of decline, the team discovered that most standard cognitive measures are flawed, confusing increased knowledge for declining capacity.

 

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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.

If the same computer was exposed to data which represented a lifetime of experiences and learning its performance looked like that of a senior citizen. 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," says 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."

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

So, I have now have proof for what I have been telling the kids, “My brain takes just a little longer to find the answer I am seeking because it has to work its way through vast amounts of knowledge it has accumulated over decades.”

“My brain,” I will explain, “is just as smart as your computers - the more we information it accumulate, the more time it takes to find the answer.”

Man, this is good news! I knew it all the time, but, it was just taking me some time to pull it up.
 

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