August 27, 2008
Brains Age More Rapidly In Final 15 Years Of Life

Another in my continuing series on why we should develop rejuvenation therapies that will cure aging. Before you die of old age you will spend about the last 15 years of your life getting dumber.

ST. PAUL, Minn. – 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."

Your ability to compare figures will go before your spatial ability which in turn will go before your verbal ability. But it is all down, down, down until your whole body crashes.

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."

I do not want to become dumber. Aging is a thief. It steals parts of your mind.

Halting and reversing brain aging is pretty much the most difficult rejuvenation therapy challenge in the human body. For other organs we will be able to grow younger replacements. Got a bad part? Replace it with a newer part. Medicine will become more like auto repair. But the brain needs to be rejuvenated in place. So will will need to focus on stem cells, gene therapy and nanodevices to repair the brain cells in place. That's a much tougher challenge than figuring out how to grow a new liver or kidney.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 August 27 10:37 PM  Brain Aging

Allan said at August 28, 2008 9:19 AM:

How do you know you're in the last 15 years of your life? I don't think my dad was any less sharp just before he died than when I was a boy. Maybe it is perception but he seemed to be pretty wise by then and you still couldn't fool him with numbers!

Kane said at August 28, 2008 3:12 PM:

This isn't the best article for John McCain's presidential campaign.

Jay said at August 28, 2008 4:37 PM:

It is if you know he's eventually going to be subpoena'd to testify before Congress on what he previously did. Worked great for Reagan.

David Govett said at August 28, 2008 4:59 PM:

Another serious web site polluted by childish ad hominem attacks. Grow up.

Randall Parker said at August 28, 2008 7:15 PM:


Keep in mind these are average results. How you die and when you die are big factors that can cause different results. Suppose you die at age 70 from cancer that kills you in 3 months from diagnosis and that otherwise you would have hit 85. You will die with a far better mind than if you had made it to 85.

Basically, cures for cancer will cause people to die with much more degenerated minds.

We really need brain rejuvenation therapies.

cancer_man said at August 29, 2008 7:12 AM:

It looks like powerful cancer therepies and early brain rejuvination will come at about the same time. 2012-2018.

Tj Green said at August 29, 2008 5:23 PM:

The problem with our species is we spend too much on defense and war. The problem with evolution is it spends everything it has on war. Evolution is war,and war is time consuming and expensive. We need something that is neutral like nanotechnology, nanodevices, that do not force, or are forced, in to endless survival strategies.

Flash Gordon said at September 1, 2008 11:25 AM:

The problem with evolution is it spends everything it has on war.

Huh? I thought the problem [?] with evolution is it spends everything it has on sex.

Flash Gordon said at September 1, 2008 12:57 PM:

Umm. Just thinking. This might explain why Jimmy Carter says the things he says.

aaron said at September 2, 2008 2:34 PM:

Shoot. I feel like I've been getting dumber since highschool. I'm almost out of time.

Tj Green said at September 4, 2008 7:37 AM:

I think of evolution as DNA copying errors, which if beneficial are retained by sex, and if not beneficial die out. What we see, the predator prey arms race, is species created by other species, and their environment, so you get these endless survival strategies (ground squirrel develops immunity from rattlesnake venom, rattlesnake develops new venom). It does not make sense, why throw so much away? The Everett interpretation of quantum physics must be correct, everything exists as multiple copies. In this universe we have freewill, but we do not have freewill in the multiverse. What is lost in this universe is retained in the multiverse.

John Faughnan said at September 9, 2008 9:36 AM:

Cognitive power starts declining at about 25 in males. Effective problem requiring large knowledge base or social interactions peaks at 30-45.

The study was really about understanding the natural history of disability due to cognitive decline, not the fact of cognitive decline.

You're already in decline. There's not much you can do about it except avoid head injuries and bad habits.

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