On March 16th, the BBC, reported a study from the University of Virginia that shows that “mental powers start to dwindle at (age) 27, after peaking at 22, marking the start of old age”. Measurements reflected changes in spatial visualization, reasoning and speed of thought.
Participants were tested in recall, letter and symbol patterns, and puzzle solving. Many of the tests were similar to those used in dementia screening tools.
My problem with this study is the same as my problem with all dementia screening tools: they measure one’s ability to perform discrete cognitive tasks, leading to a declinist view of that person that ignores the more complex, integrative tasks that remain well-preserved even in later stages.
Those who read these pages know that just because an older person can’t run or text as quickly as younger people, there are many new integrative skills that develop in elderhood. Ask a 25 year-old and a 65 year-old to do the New York Times Saturday Crossword. Many of the words are not even on the landscape of the younger person. Indeed, the study showed that accumulated knowledge peaked at age 60!
Call me when you have a study that measures wisdom.