Measuring Age With Brain Activity

Cognitive capacity provides an alternative to determining age

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) As a population ages, regions are impacted both socially and economically. New research shows that the actual age in years of a population may have less impact than the level of cognitive functioning.

A study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences observes brain activity as an indicator of an aging population.

The research shows that memory recall, a standard indicator of cognitive function, is faster in countries of higher educational, nutritional, and general health standards.

"Eat well, exercise, and stay informed to keep your brain young."

The lead author on the study, Vergard Skirbekk of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, explains, "Demographic indicators of the economic impact of an aging population typically rely on measures based on populations' age-distribution, expressed as the Old Age Dependency Ratio (OADR).

Whilst this is a helpful measurement it does not include information on individual characteristics, other than age.”

The study involved surveying individuals over age fifty all over the world to measure short-term memory and the ability to recall words read to them.

Past studies have shown that immediate recall influences decision-making and dementia risk.

"We believe cognitive function can provide a new and comparable measure of how a region or a nation's population may age,” Skirbekk states.

“Such information can inform early intervention in the education and health systems to try and improve cognitive performance, ultimately reducing the burden of aging."

Northern Europe and the United States of America have larger populations over sixty-five and yet their cognitive capabilities are higher than those of the same age group in China, India, and even neighbor Mexico.

“Overall, even though Europe and the US may be chronologically older they are 'functionally' younger,” Skirbekk reasons.

The findings imply that disease prevention, nutrition, physical activity, schooling, and social opportunities each affect an individual’s brain age and that higher income countries tend to be stronger in all of the above.

Moreover, cognitive ability tends to indicate individual productivity as well as national business-related and economic activity.

This investigation into national trends provides personal insights: eat healthy, stay active, and keep on learning in order to stay young in body and mind.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 19, 2011
Last Updated:
December 24, 2011