Before I Forget
If you’re like me, you may have experienced a creeping sensation that your cognitive functions aren’t what they once were. Did I really turn off the oven/ pay the electricity bill on time/ forget how logarithms work? You may wonder whether you’re becoming more forgetful as you get older, and there may be some scientific evidence for this.
Most of us associate being forgetful with being older. However, according to one neurological study, the brain begins to slow down at age 24. Some cognitive skills, such as fluid intelligence (our ability to think fast and remember things quickly) is highest at age 20, and then gradually decreases with time. Furthermore, millennials in the 18-34 range may actually be more forgetful than baby boomers; for example, they may forget what day it is, or where they put their wallet. There are a couple of explanations for this – one could be that millennials may be overstressed and not sleeping enough, resulting in forgetfulness. Technology may also be playing a factor, serving as a constant source of distraction, as well as providing us with the ability to take multitasking to the next level. How many of us work online with 37 different tabs open, “study” music streaming via spotify, and with a little social media for good measure? It seems that the problem may not be our brains, but rather the choices we make to keep our precarious work-life balance from collapsing.
Is all hope lost? Probably not! While some parts of our brain, such as memory, may falter depending on our stress levels and attention span, other parts of the brain either remain as strong or become stronger as we age. A study from the University of Adelaide suggests that our spatial awareness at 55-95 is as strong as at 18-38. Spatial awareness is a cognitive function involved in manipulating and navigating our environment, for example, walking, driving, and moving objects. Participants were blindfolded and given a series of tests involving touch and sound, such as using touch to find the center of a wooden object.
Another study found that cognitive function is forever adjusting itself, and the same fluid intelligence that was mentioned before (remember?) actually has different components that can be higher or lower at different ages. Skills such as recalling names, faces, assembling puzzles, and short term memory may all peak at different points in our lives. The researchers aren’t sure why each of these skills peak at different times, but are running more studies to try to understand this phenomenon. If you’re interested in assessing your own cognitive skills, and helping these researchers collect data, you can take some quick online tests for analyzing different forms of intelligence. I was reassured to find that my vocabulary skills were strong as ever, and I seem to have a great ability to recognize famous faces (just need to find a way to profit from that). Ultimately, whenever you feel like you’re just not as sharp as you used to be, just remember that you could be getting closer to a new cognitive peak with every approaching birthday.