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Brain decline begins at 45

Friday January 6th, 2012

The brain can start to deteriorate as early as aged 45, researchers claim today.

Previous research suggests that cognitive decline does not begin before the age of 60, but researchers in France and the UK have found that human brains’ capacity for cognitive function – memory, reasoning and comprehension skills (cognitive function) – can all begin to fade 15 years earlier than that.

The study, led by Archana Singh-Manoux, from the Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health in France and University College London in the UK, said as life expectancy continued to rise “understanding cognitive ageing will be one of the challenges of this century”.

Medical interventions are more likely to work when people first start to experience mental impairment, say the researchers whose study was published on the British Medical Journal online yesterday (January 5, 2012).

A total of 5,198 men and 2,192 women – all civil servants aged between 45 and 70 and part of the Whitehall II cohort study – were observed between 1997 and 2007.

Their cognitive functions were assessed three times over the study period and they were tested for memory, vocabulary and aural and visual comprehension skills. The latter included recalling in writing as many words beginning with “S” (phonemic fluency) and as many animal names (semantic fluency) as possible.

Differences in education level were taken into account.

The results showed that cognitive scores declined in all categories except vocabulary and there was faster decline in older people.

The findings also reveal that over the ten-year study period there was a 3.6 per cent decline in mental reasoning in men aged 45-49 and a 9.6 per cent decline in those aged 65-70. The corresponding figures for women were 3.6 per cent and 7.4 per cent.

Evidence of cognitive decline before the age of 60 has important ramifications because it demonstrates the importance of promoting healthy lifestyles, particularly heart health, as there is emerging evidence that “what is good for our hearts is also good for our heads”, say the authors.

In an accompanying editorial, Francine Grodstein, associate professor of Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, says the study “has profound implications for prevention of dementia and public health”.

British Medical Journal January 5 2012

Tags: Brain & Neurology | Europe | Heart Health | Mental Health | UK News

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