Researchers working to prevent decline in IQ due to aging

Research is helping clinicians differentiate between normal age-related changes and indications of some other cognitive damage

CALGARY, Alta. April 4, 2017/ Troy Media/ – “Senior moments” are not as ominously imminent as once thought. There are several methods that can help manage the different types of intelligence (verbal, logical and spatial to name a few) in order to improve memory.

aging iq
Exercising your brain can stave off cognitive problems Source: Flickr

There are many techniques used in keeping our intellects sharp, for example, taking an unfamiliar route instead of following the same routine activates the cortex and hippocampus. Bill Gates reportedly took different routes home from work every day to stimulate his brain; theorists propose altering your usual tasks in some way – perform an activity with your eyes closed, switch your hands, or do it backwards or upside-down where feasible. The challenge of learning a foreign language is also seen as mentally stimulating over automatically playing that favourite, familiar game over and over on your tablet. The greater the departure from your norm, the more your brain will be challenged. Doing crossword puzzles and volunteering in retirement are favorites of many older people who report that new intellectual challenges combined with an encouraging social network help them to stay sharp.

A healthy lifestyle is touted as improving brain health and some researchers claim that the improved blood flow with regular aerobic activity has been shown to aid cognition. However, there is some disagreement over whether physical exercise really helps with brain function. Objective evidence about the benefits of mental exercise also remains limited. Despite this, certain habits like staying hydrated and eating a healthy breakfast cannot hurt mental performance, so do not negate the benefits of exercise entirely.

Thought-provoking research has shown that brain exercises are more effective than medication in staving off cognitive problems. Indeed, some doctors are discouraging patients from taking medications purely for improving mental capacity, because the side effects may outweigh the benefits, as in the case of estrogen. There is no “magic bullet”.

Margie E. Lachman, a psychologist specializing in aging at Brandeis University, postulates in the New York Times that education seems to be “an elixir that can bring us a healthy body and mind throughout adulthood and even a longer life”. It was found that pursuing a college degree inhibits the aging process by 10 years.

There are countless studies on the IQ decline from many perspectives. Are we becoming too reliant on repetitive tasks encouraged by technology and shrinking our own IQ rather than nurturing it? Or is this the natural consequence of aging? There are many studies that are looking at those questions, notably The Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA) which is a large study that will follow approximately 50,000 men and women between the ages of 45 and 85, for at least 20 years. The CLSA will collect information, as the site says, “on the changing biological, medical, psychological, social, lifestyle and economic aspects.”

What is the real purpose behind these studies? The understanding gained has given rise to programs to assist older adults in adjusting to aging. Aging should not be feared. Writing lists, for example, should not be a source of embarrassment. Memory strategies such as relating new learning to something personally meaningful, mnemonics, and having routines are now being promoted by rehabilitation experts and not just those dealing with the elderly. This research also helps clinicians differentiate between normal age-related changes and indications of some other cognitive damage.

Understanding the lifespan contributors to aging is critical, especially since we are now experiencing the population aging at an exponential rate. Diseases connected to aging are now more likely to be better managed with the knowledge of the matters that lead to improved health care. In the future, older adults will no longer be discarded by employers, who will become more receptive to their hiring or retraining. Long-term care, housing, and palliative care are also issues that will become prominent areas to be addressed, arising out of these and other studies.

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