Sunday, August 31, 2008

Even W/Out Dementia Mental Skills Decline Years Before Death

The American Academy of Neurology issued the following announcement:Even without dementia, mental skills decline years before death

A new study shows that older people's mental skills start decliningyears before death, even if they don't have dementia. The study ispublished in the August 27, 2008, online issue of Neurology, the medicaljournal of the American Academy of Neurology."These changes are different and separate from the changes in thinkingskills that occur as people get older," said study author ValgeirThorvaldsson, MSc, of Göteberg University in Sweden. "We foundaccelerated changes in people's mental skills that indicated a terminaldecline phase years before death."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 startsdeclining nearly eight years before death. And verbal ability startsdeclining about six-and-a-half years before death.

The study involved 288 people with no dementia who were followed fromage 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 ordementia that is too early to be detected could be factors," he said."Increased health problems and frailty in old age often lead toinactivity, and this lack of exercise and mental stimulation couldaccelerate mental decline."Thorvaldsson noted that verbal abilities declined sharply in theterminal phase and did not decline significantly due to age only. "Thisindicates that people remain stable in their verbal abilities unlessthey are experiencing disease processes that also increase theirmortality risk," he said. "A change in verbal ability might therefore beconsidered a critical marker for degeneration in health in older people."

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