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When researcher Michael Ramscar came across a study saying that cognitive decline starts at age 45, he found it hard to believe. After all, he was 45 and those he looked up to intellectually were even older. So after reviewing several studies on aging and memory, he came to the conclusion that these studies ask the wrong question. Many focus on the speed at which participants can recall things. And the results are consistent-- young participants recall things more quickly than old participants.
But Michael thinks this isn’t because the young have a better-working brain; it’s because the old have more knowledge and therefore more data to sort through to get to the right answer.
To test his theory, Michael created computer models representing young and old brains, adding way more information into the models that represented old brains. Then he looked at how quickly both models worked and concluded that there was “precious little evidence of decline in [the models of] healthy, older people.”
Of course, not everyone agrees. Denise Park from the Center for Vital Longevity at the University of Texas believes that brains do deteriorate with age just like the other parts of our body, and that this is what makes them slower. In her opinion, the extra knowledge seniors have doesn’t make them process things slower, but it does compensate for the slower processing. Even if it takes longer for an older brain to access data, and even if some data is forgotten, there’s still a much bigger pool of data to choose from.
Either way, both would agree that a healthy older brain is every bit as good, if not superior to, a young brain.
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