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New Process to help Identify Mental Decline

New Information on Mental Decline for Older People

A new indicator of the risk of declining mental activity in later life has been announced by researchers at Edinburgh University.

What they have found is that people who retain an ability to see things quickly are more likely to stay mentally sharp.

People who can quickly interpret a visual image appear to retain their intelligence for longer than those who have difficulty with their visual processing.

It all sounds a bit obvious; if you see a square and take a few minutes to identify it as a square, then clearly there are problems.

But the research was more involved than that. In the project, funded by Age UK, the team tested more than 600 people over 70 by flashing one of two shapes on a screen and then measuring the time each person needed to confirm one shape from another.

These results were compared with several parameters including intelligence tests taken by the same participants.

The results showed that a slowing of visual processing could be part of a wider decline in complex decision making linked to general intelligence.

The research was led by Edinburgh’s Dr Stuart Richie who said it was part of his team’s general research into the processes that underlie age-related mental decline.

“Thinking skills, specific thinking skills which we refer to as fluid intelligence, generally decline as we get older, and we were interested in seeing how much that decline related to declines in more basic processes that the brain undertakes such as extracting information from the visual world,” he said.

Why this is being hailed as a definite advance is because at the moment cognitive tests carried out on older people can be difficult to interpret clearly, especially those with developing dementia. Along with tests measuring skills such as memory, orientation, reasoning and judgment, language skills and attention, doctors also evaluate movement, sense, balance, reflexes and many other areas to diagnose dementia.

The findings from Edinburgh University may develop into a quick and simple way to test how people’s thinking skills are changing and identify which will have many benefits for both doctors and patients. The research is ongoing and the link between visual interpretation and general intelligence may also unveil new information.

With more research in this area being undertaken, some new theories are also coming to light. A team at Tübingen University in Germany recently reported on research that showed older people do not decline mentally with age. The problem is that they have accumulated so much information in their brains that it can take them longer to recall facts. This slowing down is not the same as congnitive decline. The team compared this process to a computer; when a computer’s database grows and has more and more data to process, it can take longer to extract the right information.

With dementia now in the public eye, we can expect more information to come to light over the next few years. What is known at the moment is that eating a healthy diet, not smoking and keeping blood pressure and cholesterol in check can all help to reduce the risk of dementia.

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The above article is part of the features section of called laterlife interest. laterlife interest contains a variety of articles of interest for visitors to written by a number of experienced and new journalists.

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