Older and wiser? Some brain functions improve as we age

Posted on March 18, 2015

The ability to recall names and faces with lightning speed may start to fade in one's 20s, but our capability to perform other functions, such as learning new words, doesn't peak until decades later, according to a new study by Boston scientists.

"Some things are better, and some things are worse as we age," said Laura Germine, a psychiatric researcher at Mass. General Hospital and a coauthor of the study. "It's a complex, dynamic system. It’s nice as you get older to know that maybe I am not as quick as the college students, but I am a little wiser."

The Boston scientists gathered data from nearly 50,000 subjects who had been asked to perform a variety of tasks. Participants completed multiple-choice vocabulary tests, rapidly recalled numbers and symbols, and discerned facial emotions by looking only at the eyes.

The scientists found that different skills peaked at different ages. For example, the ability to quickly recall a number that had been paired with a symbol shown earlier peaked in the late teens and went downhill after that.

Perhaps most encouraging: Vocabulary skills may not decline until well into our 60s. But researchers discovered something that intrigued them even more. Their data showed that vocabulary skills are peaking later in life now than they did decades ago.

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Category(s):Aging & Geriatric Issues

Source material from Boston Globe