January 24, 2012

Age 45? New Study Shows Cognitive Impairment Occurs Earlier than We Thought

A ten-year study of 7,000 British government workers revealed a modest decline in mental reasoning for men and women aged 45-49. Earlier studies indicated that such losses do not typically occur before age 60.

Reported by Reuters on January 5, 2012, these new findings are especially significant because drug therapies for people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are most effective when administered as soon as possible after the first indications of impairment. Now, there is some concern that people with cognitive issues may be receiving therapies when they are too old for those interventions to be useful.

Led by Archana Singh-Manoux from the Center for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health, the study assessed participants – ages 45-70 – three times during the ten-year period using tests for memory, vocabulary, and aural and visual comprehension skills.

Men and women who were 45-49 at the start of the ten-year study showed a 3.6% decline. Men who were 65-70 at the start showed an average 9.6% decline; women in the same age category declined 7.4%. About one third of all participants 45-70 showed no decline.

Singh-Manoux thought the reality about cognitive decline in the general population might be more dramatic than the findings indicated, for two reasons:
  • the youngest participants were 45, and there’s some likelihood that impairment might occur in people younger than 45, and
  • the study group (government employees) enjoyed more privileged and healthy lifestyles than the general population.
Francine Grodstein (with Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston) called the study results “convincing.” She urged future researchers in the area of cognitive decline to include younger – and larger – populations.

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