One sweet pleasure of growing older must surely be to witness certain facts and established beliefs about our lives overturned or undergoing needed reappraisal. Take cognitive decline, for example. It is a long-time “given” that our minds slow down as we age. We become forgetful. Our memories fail us. We’re not as quick as we used to be. Maybe. But new studies seem to show what we’ve guessed instinctively when we just have to stop and think a moment: We’re just so full of information.
In mid-January of this year, linguistic researchers from Germany’s University of Tübingen published a paper in Topics in Cognitive Science challenging that long-held truth of cognitive decline across adulthood. Their findings that “memory search demands escalate as experience grows”—i.e., we simply have more data to analyze as we age—has caused something of a stir across the media. The study itself is fascinating reading, as is the reaction to it, which seems like a collective (and seasoned), “Aha!”
The fact is, as we age we become treasure troves. We become libraries of information, experiences, and memories and—like computer hard-drives—it takes more time to access and analyze all that data than, say, the collected data of someone who has only been around a decade or two. Most importantly, the new findings show that not only is the fear that older adults will be a burden on society because of cognitive decline unfounded, but as the authors stress in their study’s conclusion, “…what is more likely is that the myth of cognitive decline is leading to an absurd waste of human potential and human capital.”
Hmm. Let me just chew on that a moment.
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“The Older Mind May Just Be a Fuller Mind”, by Benedict Carey in The New Old Age Blog:
Ramscar, M., Hendrix, P., Shaoul, C., Milin, P. and Baayen, H. (2014), The Myth of Cognitive Decline: Non-Linear Dynamics of Lifelong Learning. Topics in Cognitive Science: