Mind & Body

Brains Begin To Slow Down At Age 24

When it comes to the cognitive decline of your brain, is 24 the new 50? A study shows that our cognitive-motor skills begin declining at much younger age than previously thought.

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There's A Reason For Your Uptick In "Brain Farts"

Have you ever tried playing a new iPad game with your 8-year-old niece and realized that she was catching on much more quickly than you? Well, that's embarrassing...and kind of scary, to be honest. While there's nothing to be scared of (we promise), it's true that our brains start slowing down when we reach our mid-20s.

In a 2014 study in the journal PLOS One, researchers had 3,305 volunteers between the ages of 16 and 44 play StarCraft 2, a real-time strategy video game. They were trying to gauge whether more years of experience compensated for age-related decline, creating what they called "over-the hill intuition." In other words, does experience and wisdom make up for our brains slowing down?

The study explains that the choice of StarCraft 2 was an important one, since it required the participants to make a "myriad of dynamic adjustments in order to ensure the implementation of a larger plan." While each player concentrated on multiple immediate tasks, they also formed a long-term strategy. When it came to overall performance on the game, the results were pretty predictable. As TIME explains, "the speed with which the volunteers made decisions, and shifted between tasks, declined with age." And the first signs of cognitive decline started at the ripe old age of 24.

Don't Worry—You're Still Getting Smarter

If you're 24 or older, there's good news. While your brain is starting to slow down, that doesn't mean you're losing your intelligence. Instead, you're starting to compensate by relying on experience and mental "shortcuts." As the study explains, relying on simplified strategies or experience with the game interface was likely lessening the cognitive load for older volunteers. See, guys? We just get more efficient with age.

Your next question might be, why does this happen? Scientists say: great question! While they're not exactly sure why our brains slow down with age, Geoffrey A. Kirchner, a neurologist at Stanford University, says it could be a mixture of risk factors, genetics, and general wear and tear.

A 2014 German study claims that our brains are similar to computer hard drives. There's only so much information we can hold before we start to slow down. Kirchner recommends regular aerobic exercise, a healthy diet, and lifelong learning to preserve a sharp mind. (That's why you're on Curiosity, after all!)

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