When it takes an older family member longer than normal to recall information, many people jump to the conclusion that they’re experiencing a serious cognitive condition, such as Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia. New studies suggest, however, that some delay in mental speed is normal with age.
According to The Telegraph, researchers at Tübingen University in Germany programmed computers to mimic the human brain, then compared the results to actual human cognitive speed at different ages. The scientists said that data suggests that older people are slower to recall information, not because their brains function less efficiently than those of younger individuals, but because they have a far vaster bank of information from which to draw.
“Would you really want to say that person has a better memory than a person who knows the birthdays of 2,000 people, but can ‘only’ match the right person to the right birthday nine times out of 10?” said Dr Michael Ramscar, the professor at Tübingen University who led the research. “The human brain works slower in old age, but only because we have stored more information over time.”
Of course, slower recall speed is not always simply a benign symptom of aging. People with older family members and friends should be aware of other signs that may indicate more serious cognitive conditions, such as dementia.
The Alzheimer’s Association notes that some of the most common symptoms of the disorder may often be confused with aging, but – when unattended to – will only worsen over time. Memory loss that disrupts a person’s ability to function normally, complicates their capacity for solving problems or leads to poor judgment should not go ignored. If you’re not sure whether a person is exhibiting such symptoms, speak with a health care professional who can better guide diagnosis and possible treatment.