Your Brain May Start Slowing Down As Young As Age 24

04/16/2014 05:32 pm ET | Updated Apr 16, 2014
Science Photo Library - PASIEKA via Getty Images

The wheels in your head might start slowing down at about age 24.

That's according to a new study that says cognitive-motor skills begin to decline at a relatively early age.

Researchers at Simon Fraser University in Canada tested reaction times of more than 3,000 volunteers, ages 16-44, by having them play “StarCraft 2,” a fast-paced video game that tests players’ real-time strategy abilities. Reaction time and multitasking are of the essence in this game.

According to the study,"'StarCraft 2' is of interest to psychologists for the same reasons that Go, chess, and bridge are interesting," due to the strategic planning required and the unpredictability of an opponent's move. Researchers also noted that the video game offers unique insights into how the brain works: "'StarCraft 2' progresses in real time, conferring a large advantage to players who can act and make decisions quickly."

The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS One on April 9, analyzed the amount of time it took players to react to new stimuli on the screen. Researchers found that the first sign of a decline in volunteers' reaction time started at age 24.

However, with older age comes greater experience, which researchers say may compensate for the age-related lag in speed.

“Experience nevertheless allows one to compensate for these declines indirectly. In our study, older players appear to hold their own despite their declines, perhaps by decreasing their cognitive load through the use of simplified strategies or improved use of the game interface," the study says.

A recent study out of Germany on the relation between age and brain function likened older people's decline in cognitive speed to the functionality of older computer hard drives: As more information is uploaded to the brain over time it starts to slow down, in a similar way to how a hard drive with an overabundance of information is slower than a new hard drive.

So, while we may slow down as we gray, it might be because we're getting smarter.

Though scientists aren't exactly sure why the brain decelerates with age, neurologist Geoffrey A. Kerchner, of the Stanford University School of Medicine, says it may be the result of a multitude of risk factors, genetics and the effects of overall wear and tear on the brain. But it also may be repairable with some minor lifestyle changes.

"[S]lowed information processing affects almost every aging adult to some degree, and the line between normal and abnormal is fuzzy," Kerchner told the Scientific American in March 2014. "A person may sustain or even improve information processing speed by paying close attention to vascular risk factors, engaging in regular aerobic exercise, eating well and continuing to challenge oneself intellectually."

(Hat tip, Time)

YOU MAY LIKE

CONVERSATIONS