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Cognitive problems are not inevitable

December 19, 2012

There's a common assumption that impaired decision making and cognitive decline are natural parts of aging, but the results of a new study suggest otherwise. Research conducted by the MetLife Mature Market Institute and the Center for BrainHealth at University of Texas, Dallas, found that age is not the only determinant of brain function in older adults.

The study focused on adults in their 50s, 60s and 70s, and found that the participants who made smart decisions also scored well when it came to strategic learning. Interestingly, the subjects in their 70s scored better on strategic learning than the younger groups. The oldest group also performed the best in terms of being conscientious and vigilant.

The results seem to run counter to the long-held belief that cognitive decline may be inevitable. Researchers say that previous studies that have shown the link between aging and worse decision making failed to take a number of factors into consideration, including subjects' medical histories. Additionally, they did not consider the role that certain experience could play in the mental acuity of older adults.

"Rather than attributing impaired decision-making to age alone, approaches that assess an individual's strategic learning ability and cognitive function can improve our understanding of decision-making capacity at all ages and between genders," said Sandra Timmermann, director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute.

Maintaining cognitive health is an important part of a healthy lifestyle for seniors, and there are many ways for older adults to go about doing so. For instance, physical activity and brain health have proven to be closely linked, according to WebMD. In fact, a recent study showed that people who exercised for at least 30 minutes each day had a 40 percent lower risk of developing dementia.