Cognitive decline begins sooner in women, study finds

Age-related cognitive decline normal but may start earlier than previously thought, according to a new analysis published in the journal PLOS ONE.

A team of researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) found significant declines in both processing speed and verbal memory over the course of 10 years.

After adjusting for variables, scores significantly declined in two of the four cognition tests over the 10-year period: Cognitive sharpness declined by an average of 4.9 percent, and delayed verbal memory declined by about 2 percent.

Researchers used data from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN), a community-based longitudinal, observational study on the cognitive abilities of healthy women aged 42 to 52. More than 2,100 women were clinically followed for a decade after menopause and completed annual tests on processing speed, verbal episodic memory—both immediate and delayed—and working memory.

Unlike previous studies, researchers accounted for practice effects, or learning from repeat testing that can mask the decline of cognitive performance. In women, menopause affects test performance and can invalidate estimates of underlying decline. 

Topics: Alzheimer's/Dementia