Though memory loss is thought to begin after the age 60, a new study published in the British Medical Journal found cognitive impairment can actually start when we’re as young as 45.
In a 10-year study of more than 7,000 British government workers, scientists found a modest decline in mental reasoning in men and women aged 45-49 years, which surprised lead researcher Archana Singh-Manoux of the Center for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health in France.
“We were expecting to see no decline, based on past research,” Singh-Manoux said, adding that cognitive decline “doesn’t suddenly happen when you get old. That variability exists much earlier on.”
Study participants were tested three times using tests for memory, vocabulary, and aural and visual comprehension skills. Over the 10-year period, there was a 3.6 percent decline in mental reasoning in both men and women aged 45-49 at the start of the study, while the decline for men aged 65-70 was 9.6 percent and 7.4 percent for women.
What’s more, since the youngest individuals at the start of the study were 45, it is possible that the decline in cognition might have started even earlier.
Since dementia drugs are most likely to work if given when people first start to experience mental impairment, knowing exactly when memory, reasoning and comprehension skills start to deteriorate is important — so the newer findings could have far-reaching implications for dementia research.
“The next step is going to be to tease [the results] apart and look for links to risk factors,” Singh-Manoux said.