Aging doesn’t mean the brain function has to decline, and losing cognitive function.  A study has determined that a variety of characteristics may be associated with maintenance of intelligence when people are in the 70s and 80s.


Socially engage, non-smoking senior citizens who exercise at least once a week, have a ninth grade literacy level and a high school education, have a greater chance of maintaining their cognitive function.


More than 2,500 people between the age of 70 to 79 were followed for eight years, and their cognitive skills were evaluated several times over the years.  Many of the participants demonstrated decline in cognitive functioning.


Fifty-three percent of the participants showed normal age-related decline and 16 percent demonstrated significant cognitive decline. 


On the other hand 30 percent of the study participant’s exhibited no change or improved on the tests over the years.


The researchers then set to determine the factors that made the people whose cognitive functioning remained intact or improved from those who declined.


“To this day, the majority of past research has focused on factors that put people at greater risk to lose their cognitive skills over time, but much less is known about what factors help people maintain their skills, according to Alexandra Fiocco, Ph.D, of the University of California at San Francisco.


The study, published in Neurology, reported a unique profile that differentiates people who maintain cognitive function from those with age–related decline: people who exercise moderately to vigorously at least once a week have a 30 percent greater likelihood that they will maintain their cognitive function than those who do not exercise that often.


Nonsmokers are almost twice as likely to maintain their cognitive functioning compared to smokers.  And people working or volunteering and those who live with someone are 24 percent more likely to maintain their brain function later in life.


Dr. Ficco added, “Some of these factors such as exercise and smoking are behaviors that people can change.’ Discovering factors associated with cognitive maintenance may be very useful in prevention strategies that guard against or sow the onset of dementia.



American Academy of Neurology