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Mental Skills Can Decline Years Before Dying
Date:8/27/2008

riorate independent of both age and dementia. And they expressed some surprise at how much in advance of death such mental decline seems to begin.

Verbal ability, they noted, appeared to start a sharp accelerated decline more than six years prior to death, while a slide in spatial reasoning started to manifest nearly eight years out. However, perceptual speed --or the ability to correctly and quickly compare figures -- was the first to go, beginning to drop off as much as 15 years before death.

The mapping of such occurrences could ultimately help to establish identifiable markers for medical professionals to look for when assessing the possible degeneration of mental health among their elderly patients, the researchers said.

Meanwhile, Dr. James S. Goodwin, director of the Sealy Center of Aging at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, said the study's principal value is the way in which it drives home the distinction between the normal aging process and the dying process.

"Typically, when you ask the question, how does mental function change with age the older you get, it's easy to mix up people who are merely old with people who are, in fact, dying," he noted. "But the two are not the same."

"And this study," Goodwin added, "illustrates very clearly that there is a certain period before death from so-called natural causes where mental function declines at an accelerating pace. And while most investigators had thought that this kind of decline begins between three to five years before death, this study shows that it, in fact, can be traced back to a starting point that is a lot earlier than previously thought."

More information

For additional information on screening for age-related cognitive decline, visit the American Psychological Association.



SOURCES: Valgeir
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