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Memory loss can begin as early as 45, study says

Memory loss can begin as early as 45, study says

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Think dementia starts in old age? Think again. A new study showed mental declines in subjects as young as 45. But there's a way to prevent it from happening to you.

Being 45 hardly seems akin to being 70, but it turns out people in both age groups have something in common: Their memories are in decline.

A new study published in the British Medical Journal of more than 7,000 civil servants in London between the ages of 45 and 70 showed decline in the older age groups, as would be expected.

But it also showed a surprising loss in the memories of those between 45 and 49.

The findings have implications for Alzheimer's prevention. As the Guardian reports, "those whose brains appear to deteriorate fastest may be more likely to develop dementia in later life -- and because if there is any chance of slowing that process, those at highest risk may need to be detected and treated at an early stage, before Alzheimer's or another form of dementia becomes apparent."

The study

The volunteers (5,000 men and 2,000 women) took verbal and written tests on three occasions over ten years.

In that time, the volunteers in the 45-49 age group showed a deterioration of mental reasoning of 3.6%. This compares to slippage of 9.6% for men aged 65 to 70, and a decline of 7.4% in women of that age.

The tests used to measure mental performance included a series of 65 verbal and mathematical reasoning problems that got progressively more difficult and had to be completed in ten minutes. The researchers said, they test "inductive reasoning, measuring the ability to identify patterns and infer principles and rules."

A second test was on the subjects' short-term verbal memory. They were given a list of 20 one- or two-syllable words and then asked to write down all the ones they could remember in any order within two minutes.

The third test focused on verbal fluency. The participants were asked to write down as many words as they could that began with the letter S within 60 seconds, and then to write down as many animal names as they could within the same time frame.

The final test was a multiple choice vocabulary test on 35 words.

The researchers, from the Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health in France and University College London in the United Kingdom, filtered out the influence of each person's educational background so they did not influence the results.

How to protect your mental capacity

The researchers note that people with healthy hearts also have healthy minds. On the other hand, those with high blood pressure, obesity and high cholesterol and other heart problems have a higher risk of dementia.

They write,

There is enough evidence to show the importance of healthy lifestyles and cardiovascular risk factors in adulthood for dementia. For some of these risk factors, such as obesity, hypertension, and hypercholesterolaemia, it is mid-life levels that seem to be more important than those measured at older ages.

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via: The Guardian

photo: Complete neuron cell diagram (LadyofHats/Wikimedia)

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Laura Shin

Features Editor

Laura Shin has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times, and is currently a contributor at Forbes. Previously, she worked at Newsweek, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and LearnVest. She holds degrees from Stanford University and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure