As we age we are doomed to reduced mental capacities. We forget things, our thought processes slow down, we edge closer and closer to an inevitable near-vegetative state. Aging means inevitable cognitive decline, right?
While some slowing down of thought processing is common, it’s also to be expected according to Dr. Michael Ramscar. Dr. Ramscar believes that the reason old people may forget the odd word or may take longer to think about something is not due to cognitive decline. Instead, he “blames” it on accrued knowledge.
“The human brain works slower in old age but only because we have stored more information over time.The brains of older people do not get weak. On the contrary, they simply know more,” Dr. Michael Ramscar
Dr. Ramscar likens the human brain to a computer. Without changing the processing speed a computer will significantly slow down as the amount of data it stores on its hard drive increases. So with humans, younger people may remember things faster, but only because they have less to remember. Older people just have more to sort through and that’s why it takes a little longer.
So if Dr. Ramscar is right why do some elderly people’s cognitive abilities rapidly decline? One hypothesis is that we lose our smarts as we age because we stop using our smarts as much! The adage use it or lose it is particularly apt when it comes to our brain-power.
Research suggests that older people who do puzzles, learn languages and otherwise keep mentally active are less at risk from a decline in memory, reasoning skills and other mental problems.
“[H]earing loss should not be considered an inconsequential part of aging, because it may come with some serious long-term consequences to healthy brain functioning,” Assistant Professor Lin, John Hopkins University
Furthermore, a study by John Hopkins University found that a decline in hearing leads to a decline in mental ability. The authors of the paper surmise that this may cause the brain to devote more energy at processing sound instead of memory and thought processing. Worryingly, the paper stated that only 15% of people studied who needed a hearing aid actually wore one!