Research conducted in the UK reveals that certain pathways in the brain age at different rates, leading to differences in our ability to carry out certain tasks as we age. The study was published in Nature Communications on 18 December 2014.
The team, based in Cambridge, looked at thinking skills in 567 people. The tests involved ‘odd-one-out’ and series completion style assessments, to test ‘fluid intelligence’-a term used to describe problem solving in new situations. The researchers also looked at multi-tasking, using a simulated work environment, and testing how many tasks could be completed in the set time frame.
As well as these tests, MRI-a type of brain scan-was used to look at nerve cell connections in the front part of the brain. They found that fluid intelligence and multi-tasking are controlled by different nerve cell pathways and that they changed at different rates with age. The results indicate that while the ability to multi-task is preserved with age, problem solving becomes more difficult.
Dr Eric Karran, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“The brain is the most complex organ in the body with the rate of ageing, and the difficulties people experience in later life, varying for everyone. This study highlights that some changes in memory and thinking abilities are a normal part of ageing and that problems with some tasks do not necessarily mean across the board cognitive problems. Research into why different parts of the brain decline at different rates will give important insights into both healthy ageing and conditions like dementia. If anyone is concerned that their memory is getting worse, or interfering with everyday life, then they shouldn’t hesitate to talk to their GP.”