September 16, 2014
2nd Block DC Psychology
Mr. Higgins Decline of Mental Abilities in Old Age & Alzheimers Disease
It is a common known fact that when you are in old age, your mental abilities are not as strong as they were in the earlier years of your life. It happens to everyone and is absolutely inevitable, but some people’s abilities deteriorate much more quickly than most due to diseases.
One of those diseases being Alzheimer’s disease.
In a study, done by Valgeir Thorvaldsson of the Gothenburg University in Sweden, published by the American Academy of Neurology, Thorvaldsson’s work showed that perceptual speed, which is the speed people can analyze figures, begins deteriorating almost fifteen years before death. Next, spatial ability begins to worsen roughly eight years before death. Then, verbal ability commends declining about sixandahalf years before death. He said, "These changes are different and separate from the changes in thinking skills that occur as people get older. We found accelerated changes in people's mental skills that indicated a terminal decline phase years before death." (1) All of his patients were regularly monitored so that if they were to develop dementia, they would know and throw that participant’s data out of the study. The age at which Thorvaldsson began to study his patients were from age 70 up until death, which at average, was around 84 years of age. Thorvaldsson concluded that verbal abilities deteriorated sharply in the terminal phase, but they did not decline due to simply age. Psychologists continue to wonder what it is that causes the decline in mental abilities in old age, not just the effects.
Thorvaldsson may have figured part of that out, as well. He said, "cardiovascular conditions such as heart disease or dementia that is too early to be detected could be factors. Increased
health problems and frailty in old age often lead to inactivity, and this lack of exercise and mental stimulation could accelerate mental decline." (1) It seems as though this Swedish scientist has figured out quite a few things with this study of his. He is highly respected among his peers and many people expect more great work from him in the future.
There is another study about mental decline in old age by University of California at
Berkeley that takes a different approach to the deterioration. They studied the connections between poor sleep, memory loss, and brain function decline in our old age. Neuroscientists there have discovered that the slow brain waves created while we are in the comforts of the deep, restorative, and generally enjoyable sleep we would usually experience in our youth, play a highly significant role in transferring memories from the short term memory center and the brain’s long term memory center. (2) In adults, the deep sleep that they attained during childhood is no longer achieved and their memories are stuck in the Hippocampus, the short term memory center in the brain, and cannot be transferred to the Prefrontal Cortex, the long term memory center in the brain. “What we have discovered is a dysfunctional pathway that helps explain the relationship between brain deterioration, sleep disruption and memory loss as we get older – and with that, a potentially new treatment avenue,” said a key sleep researcher of this study, Matthew Walker, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at UC Berkeley.
Walker also said, “But as we get older, the quality of our sleep deteriorates and prevents those memories from being saved by the brain at night.” This is why deep sleep is so important to our everyday life. It allows us to retain valuable information that may be crucial to your family life, career, and maybe even to just yourself. Take the time you need for yourself to allow your brain to do its job, so it can help you do all of yours.