"The reality is, as we age, cognitive processes slow down," Kennedy said. "It may take you longer, and you may have to practice longer to master something new, but hopefully you have health and the time to actually do that."
Though cognitive decline was once seen as an inescapable part of aging, public perception is beginning to change, and recent studies back that up.
"Most people's brains are under assault in old age, and the lifestyle stuff doesn't appear to stop that pathology," Wilson said. "But lifestyle does appear to help your brain tolerate that pathology. It helps you get more out of what you have left and to adapt to the changes in your brain, and it appears to make a big difference."
In an accompanying editorial, Jonathan W. King and Richard Suzman, from the U.S. National Institute of Aging, said that the study's findings overall paint a "fairly optimistic" picture.
"It could well be possible to design interventions that, when combined with appropriate lifestyle changes, could possibly at least slow the rate of cognitive decline," they wrote.
The Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation has more on Alzheimer's and dementia.
SOURCES: Robert S. Wilson, Ph.D., professor, neurological and behavioral sciences, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago; Gary Kennedy, M.D., director, division of geriatric psychiatry, Montefiore Medical Center, New York City; Psychological Science in the Public Interest
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