Scientists say they can tell how bad your memory will fade six decades before it happens.
Participants who scored poorly on mental tests at the age of eight were more likely to think and have memory problems by the time they reached 70.
Researchers say their findings suggest that subtle cognitive differences can be a marker for dementia before symptoms appear.
However, the results did not investigate whether cognitive skills in childhood were linked to the risk of developing dementia.
Education and income, assessed on the basis of occupation at age 53, also turned out to be an indicator of how brain power decreases in your years & # 39; 70.
Study participants who scored poorly on mental tests at the age of eight were more likely to experience thinking and memory problems by the time they reached 70 (stock)
The study is published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, and was led by professor Jonathan Schott.
Professor Schott from University College London said: & # 39; Finding these predictors is important.
& # 39; If we can understand what influences the cognitive performance of an individual in later life, we can determine which aspects can be changed through education or lifestyle changes such as exercise, diet or sleep, which in turn can delay the development of cognitive decline & # 39;
His team followed 502 British people born the same week in 1946 who took cognitive tests when they were eight – and again between the ages of 69 and 71.
There was a connection between the two sets of test scores – although they were more than 60 years apart.
For example, someone whose cognitive performance was in the first 25 percent as a child would probably stay at 70 in the upper quarter.
Even if differences in child outcomes were taken into account, there was an additional effect of education, with those who had a university degree scoring about 16 percent higher than their peers who left school before the age of 16.
A higher socio-economic status also predicted slightly better cognitive performance at 70 – those in & # 39; professional jobs & # 39; had worked, tended to recall on average 12 details from a short story compared to 11 for those who had worked in manual jobs.
In general, women outperformed men in tasks that challenged memory and thought speed.
Professor Schott said: & The study also found that cognitive skills in children, education, and socioeconomic status all independently influence cognitive performance at the age of 70.
& # 39; Continuous follow-up of these individuals and future studies are needed to determine how these findings can best be used to more accurately predict how a person's thinking and memory will change as they age. & # 39;
The participants also underwent brain scans to search for amyloid-beta plaques – rogue proteins in the brain linked to Alzheimer's disease.
The plaques gather between neurons and disrupt the cell function, but it is not entirely clear how.
Those who had the plaques performed worse on the tests. For example, they scored an average of eight percent lower in the test & # 39; missing pieces & # 39 ;.
This included looking at different geometric shapes and identifying the missing piece from five options.
Those with the amyloid beta plaques received an average of 23 of the 32 items correctly in adulthood – two points less than participants without the lumps.
This suggests that small differences in cognitive tests, possibly caused by amyloid plaques, are detectable years before dementia symptoms occur, Professor Schott said.
Dr. Ashok Jansari, of Goldsmiths, University of London, said in his commentary on the study: "There was no statistical difference in the scores of the adults who did and did not show the plaques."
The presence of the plaques was unconnected childhood cognitive skills. Nor was it linked to sex, education or socio-economic status.
Dr. Jansari said: & # 39; Given that the plaques are the only current biological marker of Alzheimer's, there is no connection at all here. & # 39;
Dr. Matthew Iveson, a senior data scientist, University of Edinburgh, said: “The study does not claim that those who perform poorly on the tests have or will get dementia.
& # 39; It only looks at performance on a series of cognitive tests that can help detect the subtle cognitive decline that precedes dementia. & # 39;
Dr. Carol Routledge, director of research at Alzheimer's & UK's Research UK, which partially funded the study, said an explanation for the relationship between brain power in children and adults & # 39; cognitive reserve & # 39; could be.
It is the idea that memory and thinking skills that we acquire during our lifetime offer a resilience through education, known as cognitive reserve.
Research has shown that people with a larger cognitive reserve are better able to prevent symptoms of degenerative brain changes seen in diseases such as dementia.
& # 39; But more research is needed to better understand this link & # 39 ;, Dr. Routledge.
& # 39; This study sheds more light on the complex relationship between memory and thinking skills in early life and our cognitive ability as we get older. & # 39;
Dementia affects approximately 850,000 people in the UK – a figure that is expected to rise to two million in 2050. An estimated 5.7 million people with dementia are affected in the US.
Because there is no cure in sight, more and more attention is being paid to identifying those who are most at risk of taking preventive measures.
A limitation of the study is that all participants were white, so the results may not represent the general population.
HOW TO DETECT ALZHEIMER & # 39; S
Alzheimer's disease is a progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory, thinking skills and the ability to perform simple tasks.
It is the cause of 60 to 70 percent of cases of dementia.
The majority of people with Alzheimer's are 65 years and older.
More than five million Americans have Alzheimer's.
The cause of Alzheimer's is unknown. Those who have the APOE gene are more likely to develop late Alzheimer's disease.
Signs and symptoms:
- Problems with remembering newly learned information
- Mood and behavioral changes
- Suspicion about family, friends and professional caregivers
- More serious memory loss
- Difficulties with speaking, swallowing and walking
Stages of Alzheimer's:
- Mild Alzheimer's (early stage) – A person may function independently, but has memory problems
- Moderate Alzheimer's (middle stage) – Usually the longest stage, the person can confuse words, become frustrated or angry or have sudden behavioral changes
- Severe Alzheimer's Disease (late stage) – In the final stage, individuals lose the ability to respond to their environment, have a conversation, and, ultimately, control movement
There is no known cure for Alzheimer's disease, but experts suggest exercise, social interaction, and adding brain-stimulating omega-3 fats to your diet to prevent or delay the onset of symptoms.
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