Even without dementia, mental skills decline years before death

Aug 27, 2008

A new study shows that older people's mental skills start declining years before death, even if they don't have dementia. The study is published in the August 27, 2008, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

"These changes are different and separate from the changes in thinking skills that occur as people get older," said study author Valgeir Thorvaldsson, MSc, of Göteberg University in Sweden. "We found accelerated changes in people's mental skills that indicated a terminal decline phase years before death."

The start of the decline is different for various cognitive abilities. Perceptual speed, which measures how quickly people can compare figures, begins declining nearly 15 years before death. Spatial ability starts declining nearly eight years before death. And verbal ability starts declining about six-and-a-half years before death.

The study involved 288 people with no dementia who were followed from age 70 to death, with an average age at death of 84. The participants' mental skills were measured up to 12 times over a period of 30 years, and they were evaluated to make sure they had not developed dementia.

A number of factors may explain this terminal decline in mental skills, Thorvaldsson said. "Cardiovascular conditions such as heart disease or dementia that is too early to be detected could be factors," he said. "Increased health problems and frailty in old age often lead to inactivity, and this lack of exercise and mental stimulation could accelerate mental decline."

Thorvaldsson noted that verbal abilities declined sharply in the terminal phase and did not decline significantly due to age only. "This indicates that people remain stable in their verbal abilities unless they are experiencing disease processes that also increase their mortality risk," he said. "A change in verbal ability might therefore be considered a critical marker for degeneration in health in older people."

Source: American Academy of Neurology

Explore further: Suddenly health insurance is not for sale

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

US archeologists race to uncover Civil War prison

Feb 16, 2014

Racing against time, South Carolina archeologists are digging to uncover the remnants of a Civil War-era prisoner-of-war camp before the site in downtown Columbia is cleared to make room for a mixed-use development.

Unraveling Batten disease

Nov 02, 2011

Waste management is a big issue anywhere, but at the cellular level it can be a matter of life and death. A Weizmann Institute study, published in the Journal of Cell Biology, has revealed what causes a molecular waste contai ...

Recommended for you

Suddenly health insurance is not for sale

5 minutes ago

(HealthDay)— Darlene Tucker, an independent insurance broker in Scotts Hill, Tenn., says health insurers in her area aren't selling policies year-round anymore.

Study: Half of jailed NYC youths have brain injury (Update)

7 minutes ago

About half of all 16- to 18-year-olds coming into New York City's jails say they had a traumatic brain injury before being incarcerated, most caused by assaults, according to a new study that's the latest in a growing body ...

Autonomy and relationships among 'good life' goals

7 hours ago

Young adults with Down syndrome have a strong desire to be self-sufficient by living independently and having a job, according to a study into the meaning of wellbeing among young people affected by the disorder.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

CaptSpaulding
not rated yet Aug 28, 2008
Hasn't this been well established multiple times? I've seen studies about 10 years ago that show IQ and other mental skills beginning to decline in the late 40s.

More news stories

LinkedIn membership hits 300 million

The career-focused social network LinkedIn announced Friday it has 300 million members, with more than half the total outside the United States.

Magnitude-7.2 earthquake shakes Mexican capital

A powerful magnitude-7.2 earthquake shook central and southern Mexico on Friday, sending panicked people into the streets. Some walls cracked and fell, but there were no reports of major damage or casualties.

Sun emits a mid-level solar flare

The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 9:03 a.m. EDT on April 18, 2014, and NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured images of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful ...