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Age 45 is the New 60, At Least Where It Concerns the Beginning of Mental Decline

New study disrupts assumption that cognitive decline begins about age 60, finds it is more like age 45 to 49

Jan. 9, 2012 - Baby boomers and younger adults in their 40s may have been waiting until they hit their 60s to start worrying about how to prevent mental decline. But, new research says that may be a little late. Their research shows cognitive decline beginning about age 45 and continuing with age.

Abundant evidence has clearly established an inverse association between age and cognitive performance, but the age at which cognitive decline begins is much debated.

Recent studies concluded that there was little evidence of cognitive decline before the age of 60.

However, clinical studies demonstrate a correlation between the presence of amyloid plaques in the brain and the severity of cognitive decline. It would seem that these amyloid plaques are also found in the brains of young adults.

Few assessments of the effect of age on cognitive decline use data that spans over several years. This was the specific objective of the study led by researchers from Inserm and the University College London.


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As part of the Whitehall II cohort study, medical data was extracted for 5,198 men and 2,192 women, aged between 45 and 70 at the beginning of the study, monitored over a 10-year period. The cognitive functions of the participants were evaluated three times over this time. Individual tests were used to assess memory, vocabulary, reasoning and verbal fluency.

They found that cognitive scores declined in all categories (memory, reasoning, and phonemic and semantic fluency) with the lone exception of vocabulary. But the decline was faster among older people.

The decline was, however, significant in each age group.

For example, during the period studied, reasoning scores decreased by 3.6 % for men aged between 45 and 49, and 9.6 % for those aged between 65 and 70. The corresponding figures for women stood at 3.6% and 7.4% respectively.

The results conclude that cognitive performance, except for vocabulary, declines with age and more rapidly so as the individual's age increases.

The authors underline that evidence pointing to cognitive decline before the age of 60 has significant consequences.

"Determining the age at which cognitive decline begins is important since behavioral or pharmacological interventions designed to change cognitive aging trajectories are likely to be more effective if they are applied from the onset of decline." underlines Archana Singh-Manoux.

"As life expectancy continues to increase, understanding the correlation between cognitive decline and age is one of the challenges of the 21st Century" she adds.

Increased life expectancy implies fundamental changes in the composition of populations, with a significant rise in the number of elderly people. These changes are likely to have a massive influence on the life of individuals and on society in general.

These findings emphasize the importance of promoting healthy lifestyles for younger adults, particularly cardiovascular health, because there is emerging evidence that "what is good for our hearts is also good for our heads."

Archana Singh-Manoux, MD, with the Hôpital Paul Brousse, Villejuif, France, and colleagues from the University of London, in the United Kingdom, reported their findings online January 5 in the British Medical Journal.


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