By Maria Savva
A NEW study has shown that with age, cognitive functions like memory and executive functions start to deteriorate due to changes in brain structure and function, with the changes starting to affect people in their late 30s.
National neurocognitive research conducted by the Centre for Applied Neuroscience of the University of Cyprus, in collaboration with the University of Crete, various municipalities, the Cyprus Institute of Neurology and Genetics and the Nicosia Development Agency (ANEL) shows that there is a stable memory decline in Cypriot adults for each decade of life after 30.
Dr Fofi Constantinidou, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Centre said research began in 2008-2009 as a pilot project. “The project expanded to include participants over 60 from all over Cyprus who are being monitored every two years in order to determine changes in cognitive performance. Recently, we have expanded our database to include individuals aged 40 and above.”
So far, over 600 participants of the national study have been assessed with questionnaires and neuropsychological tests dealing primarily with cognitive functions, with the results over the years indicating a decrease in performance in cognitive tasks requiring executive functions and memory skills.
In addition, Dr Constantinidou said that “as part of a larger parallel study, we partnered with collaborators in Crete in order to study patterns of aging in populations with similar demographic characteristics like our Cypriot cohort.”
“Our studies in Cyprus and in Crete demonstrate that memory performance is influenced by demographic factors such as gender and levels of education. Those with more years of formal education tend to have better memory performance. However, the rates of change from decade to decade are similar irrespective of education,” she explained.
“Related to that is the concept of cognitive reserve, the mind’s ability to develop strategies and moderate the effects of aging. Our groups are investigating this theoretical construct of reserve in order to find effective ways to measure it and also to improve it across adulthood.”
According to the Neurocognitive Adult Study pamphlet issued by the Neurocognitive Research Laboratory of the Department of Psychology at the University of Cyprus, life expectancy in Cyprus depending on gender ranges from 76 to 80 years, but “certain physiological changes caused from damage in brain mass and decreased in communication speed between brain cells are presented after 65 to 70 years and include the ability to learn new information at a fast pace.”