Brains of Seniors Slow Because They Know So Much
By S. Knapton; telegraph. co. uk; 20 Jan 2014
Older people do not diminish mentally with age, it just takes them longer to remember information because they have a lot more information in their brains, scientists believe.
Much like a personal computer struggles as the hard disk drive gets full up, so to do humans take longer to access data, it has been suggested.
Researchers point out this slowing down it is definitely not the same as cognitive decrease.
“The human brain works slower in later years,” explained Dr. Michael Ramscar, “but only because we have stored more information over time."
“The brains of older individuals do not get weak. On the contrary, they simply know far more.”
A team at Tübingen University in Germany programmed a computer to read a specific quantity each day and learn new terms and commands.
When the researchers let a computer system “read” only so much, its efficiency on cognitive assessments resembled that of a young adult.
But if the very same computer was exposed to the encounters we might experience over a life time – with reading simulated over many years – its performance now seemed like that of an older adult.
Frequently it was sluggish, but not due to the fact its processing potential had dropped. Instead, enhanced “experience” had caused the computer’s database to grow, giving it more data to process – which requires time.
“Consider an individual who knows 2 people’s birthdays and can recall them almost perfectly.“
Would you really want to claim that individual has a better memory than a particular person who knows the birthdays of 2000 people, but can ‘only’ match the correct person to the right birthday nine times out of 10?” said Dr Ramscar.
The study offers more than an explanation of why, in the light of all the extra information they have to process, we may anticipate elderly brains to seem slower and more forgetful than more youthful brains.
And researchers say some cognitive exams which are utilized to analyze mental capacity may inadvertently favour younger people.
A cognitive examination called ‘paired associated learning’ challenges individuals to remember a set of two of words that are unrelated like ‘necktie’ and ‘cracker.’
Research have shown that younger people are much better at this experiment, but scientists think that older individuals struggle to remember nonsense pairs – like ‘necktie’ and ‘cracker’ – because they have realized that they never go with each other.
Prof. Harald Baayen, who heads the Alexander von Humboldt Quantitative Linguistics research group where the work was carried out said: “The fact that older individuals find nonsense pairs more difficult to learn than younger individuals simply demonstrates older adults’ much better comprehension of vocabulary."
“They have got to generate more of an effort to learn unrelated word pairs because, in contrast to the youngsters, they know a lot about which phrases don’t belong together.”
Researchers point out this could clarify why older people struggle to try to remember unusual first names.
The research was released in the Journal of Topics in Cognitive Science.