Why do some people seem to retain their mental faculties far into their advanced years while others become more forgetful sooner? And is there anything that has been proven to prevent the loss of memory and cognitive function later in life? These issues were recently highlighted in an edition of Science magazine.
Understanding the normal process of aging is a first step in trying to explain what happens later in life. Researchers are finding intriguing clues to the normal process of brain aging by analyzing data from the so-called Scottish Mental Studies. In 1947 70,000 Scottish children, all eleven years old, were administered an IQ test that lasted 45 minutes. Starting in 2004 about 1000 survivors from the original group were contacted and asked to retake the same IQ test to see how they had fared. They were also asked to provide DNA samples, share diaries of their lifestyles including food and alcohol, and have MRI scans of their brains. The results have generated more than 250 scientific papers.
So far the results have shown that the best predictor of one’s IQ later in life is ….drum-roll……one’s IQ earlier in life; which also correlates with the thickness of the outer surface of the brain as measured by MRI later in life. These studies suggest that about half the differences among people’s mental abilities seen later in life can be attributed to how intelligent they were as children. Perhaps as much as a quarter of the differences may be attributed to still be defined genetic causes.
Clearly the causes of memory decline and even improvements seen in some people but not others over time remain to be determined; learning how the brain functions both in health and disease will take many, many years. However, the Scottish study gives researchers a starting point to test new theories and perhaps one day come up with interventions. Having and maintaining a healthy and inquisitive mind in childhood may ultimately prove to be the best protector of brain function in adulthood.
Thanks for reading – Please share with others – Links Below! Click Here to start receiving my weekly health blog post via email. Until next week…. Dr Ed Taubman, Primary Care Doctor, Olney MD 301-774-5400
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