Studies: Memory declines faster in years closest to death

April 4, 2012

Two new studies published in the April 4 online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, suggest that a person's memory declines at a faster rate in the last two-and-a-half years of life than at any other time after memory problems first begin. The second study shows that keeping mentally fit through board games or reading may be the best way to preserve memory during late life. Both studies were conducted by researchers at Rush University Medical Center.

"In our first study, we used the end of life as a reference point for research on memory decline rather than birth or the start of the study," said study author Robert S. Wilson, PhD, study author and at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

For the study, 174 Catholic priests, nuns and monks without had their memory tested yearly for six to 15 years before death. After death, scientists examined their brains for hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease called plaques and tangles.

The study found that at an average of about two-and-a-half years before death, different memory and thinking abilities tended to decline together at rates that were 8 to 17 times faster than before this terminal period. Higher levels of plaques and tangles were linked to an earlier onset of this terminal period but not to rate of during it.

The second study, also conducted by Wilson, showed that keeping mentally fit through board games or reading may be the best way to preserve memory during late life.

The study, which focused on mental activities, involved 1,076 people with an average age of 80 who were free of . Participants underwent yearly exams for about five years. They reported how often they read the newspaper, wrote letters, visited a library and played board games such as chess or checkers. Frequency of these mental activities was rated on a scale of one to five, one meaning once a year or less and five representing every day or almost every day.

"The results suggest a cause and effect relationship: that being mentally active leads to better cognitive health in old age," said Wilson.

The results showed that people's participation in mentally stimulating activities and their mental functioning declined at similar rates over the years. The researchers also found that they could predict participants' level of cognitive functioning by looking at their level of mental activity the year before but that level of cognitive functioning did not predict later mental activity.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Hope for new treatment for Huntington's disease

February 20, 2017

Researchers working at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and University of Southern Denmark have managed to produce short synthetic DNA analogues – oligonucleotides – that bind directly to the gene that is mutated in Huntington's ...

Advances in imaging could deepen knowledge of brain

February 18, 2017

New imaging techniques enable exploration of the brain in much more detail than ever before, opening the door to greater understanding of neurological problems and possibly new treatments, researchers say.

What the ability to 'get the gist' says about your brain

February 17, 2017

Many who have a chronic traumatic brain injury (TBI) report struggling to solve problems, understand complex information and maintain friendships, despite scoring normally on cognitive tests. New research from the Center ...

Emotions are cognitive, not innate, researchers conclude

February 15, 2017

Emotions are not innately programmed into our brains, but, in fact, are cognitive states resulting from the gathering of information, New York University Professor Joseph LeDoux and Richard Brown, a professor at the City ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.