This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Does Your Brain Slow Down as You Age?

One of the big issues of an aging population is the belief that older people are, by nature, less productive than younger people. One of the symptoms often presented to support that idea is that older people tend to be a bit slower in response to some mental activities. But now comes research, reported by the National Geographic, that puts a different spin on this. The story begins with Michael Ramscar, a linguistics researcher at the University of Tübingen in Germany:
His research, published in the January 2014 issue of Topics in Cognitive Science, argues that studies on memory ask the wrong questions. It could be that older, wiser heads are so chock full of knowledge that it simply takes longer to retrieve the right bits. (It's important to note that the research is aimed at healthy, aging brains, not those afflicted with Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia, which rob the brain of memory and other abilities.)
There's no denying that older people have acquired more experience and information than younger people, says Denise Park, co-director of the Center for Vital Longevity at the University of Texas at Dallas, whose research focuses on how the mind changes and adapts as people age. "As we age we accrue knowledge, have a higher vocabulary score, and know more about the world," says Park. "There's a reason we don't have 20-year-olds running the world."
Her conclusion: "I strongly believe that our everyday performance does not decline with age." That's because as the ability to retrieve memories quickly declines, the brain is still building up stores of knowledge from which to draw.
This all makes a lot of sense to me. Now, let's see, what was I saying?

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