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
Jan. 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.
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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