Entries in Cognitive Development (5)


Study: Mental Slowdown Can Begin in the 40s

Creatas Images/Thinkstock(PARIS) -- Call them senior moments, mental glitches or simple forgetfulness -- many people have experienced the mental slowdown that can come with age.

New research finds that these cognitive slips can begin as early as age 45.  But whether they are the result of dementia, cardiovascular disease or simply getting older is not clear.

Researchers studied a group of nearly 7,500 British government employees between the ages of 45 and 70, periodically testing their memories, reasoning, vocabulary and comprehension skills for 10 years.

Overall, the 45- to 49-year-olds showed a decline of nearly 4 percent on average in their cognitive capabilities over 10 years.

That amount of decline is probably not enough to cause impairment in daily life, said study author Archana Singh-Manoux, research director of the Center for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health at Hopital Paul Brousse near Paris -- but it could be an important red flag for future problems.

"This might well be part of the normal aging process," Singh-Manoux said. "However, other studies have shown that small differences in cognition might translate to greater differences in risk of dementia at older ages."

The study participants' cognition slipped even further as they got older.  By age 65, men's cognitive performance declined by almost 10 percent, and women's dropped by 7.5 percent.

According to Singh-Manoux, this study, published Friday in the British Medical Journal, is the first to document cognitive declines at such a young age.

"The understanding of cognitive aging so far was of no cognitive decline until age 60," she said.  "Our study shows that this is not the case. Cognitive function begins to decline earlier."

But how much that mental drop-off indicates a slide into more debilitating dementia is unclear.  The current study didn't measure how many of the participants went on to develop dementia.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Obesity, Sleep Apnea, Cognitive Problems Linked in Children

Boy Yawning (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)(CHICAGO) -- Obesity, sleep apnea, and behavior and learning difficulties can cause significant dysfunction in children, but a new study suggests these three problems interact with one another, exacerbating the effects of each individual problem.

Researchers at the University of Chicago's Comer Children's Hospital and Pritzker School of Medicine performed sleep, cognitive, and body weight tests on more than 350 healthy, normally developing children aged 6 to 10, and found a complex relationship between the three factors.

"Cognitive functioning in children is adversely affected by frequent health-related problems, such as obesity and sleep-disordered breathing," the authors wrote.  "Furthermore, poorer integrative mental processing may place a child at a bigger risk for adverse health outcomes."

On the other hand, "good cognitive abilities may be protective against increased body weight and sleep-disordered breathing," said Karen Spruyt, the study's lead author.  "If the brain can function optimally, it can help protect against the clinical manifestation of disease."

The study, she said, published this week in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, is one of the only ones to evaluate the relationship between obesity, sleep apnea and cognitive ability at the same time in either children or adults.

Past research has looked at them separately.  For example, studies have found that the mental functioning of obese people with sleep apnea is impaired, but these studies didn't look at the reverse relationship.  Other research has found a link between both body weight and sleep disorders, and a study published in January found a link between a lack of sleep and childhood obesity.

The new study's findings suggest, Spruyt explained, that when targeting obesity in children, clinicians should also screen for sleep apnea and cognitive impairment, because improving one of these variables could also lead to improvement in the others.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Is 'SpongeBob SquarePants' Making Preschoolers Slower Thinkers?

Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Nickelodeon(CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.) -- He may be one of the longest-running, best-loved cartoons in Nickelodeon history, but SpongeBob SquarePants is getting no love from child psychologists.

According to research published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, watching fast-paced cartoons like SpongeBob, even for just a few minutes, hinders abstract thinking, short-term memory and impulse control in preschoolers.

Led by University of Virginia psychologist Angeline Lillard, researchers randomly assigned 60 four-year-olds to three activities: drawing freely with markers for nine minutes; watching a slower-paced, PBS cartoon for that time; or watching SpongeBob SquarePants.  Researchers chose SpongeBob for its frenetic pace: The show switches scenes on average every 11 seconds, as compared with the PBS cartoon, which switched only twice a minute.

Afterward, the preschoolers were asked to do four different "executive function" tasks that test cognitive capability and impulse control, such as counting backwards, solving puzzles, and delaying gratification by waiting to eat a tasty snack until told to do so.  Compared with those who were drawing and those watching PBS, the SpongeBob kids performed significantly worse on the tasks.

Study authors note that it's hard to say what it was about the adventures of this friendly kitchen sponge that seemed to have such an immediate negative effect on kids, but they suspected it was the fantastical events and rapid pacing of the show.  By contrast, the PBS show was slower and exhibited real life events about a preschool-age boy.

Parents and pediatricians have often commented that the frenzied pace of many kids' cartoons today make kids distracted and kill their attention spans.

"This is something we have known for quite sometime, but this is elegant research that puts science behind what we think," says Dr. David Rosenberg, chief of child psychiatry and psychology at Wayne State University.

The blame shouldn't fall exclusively on the square shoulders of this kindly sea sponge.  All fast-paced, fantastical kids' shows are called into question.

Nickleodeon, the makers of SpongeBob, defended the cartoon, pointing out that the study looked only at white middle- to upper-class kids.  The study subjects were also only four -- two years younger than the target SpongeBob audience.

"Having 60 non-diverse kids, who are not part of the show's targeted demo, watch nine minutes of programming is questionable methodology.  It could not possibly provide the basis for any valid findings that parents could trust," David Bittler, a representative for Nickleodeon, told ABC News.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Too Much Salt, Too Little Exercise Bad for Brain

Comstock/Thinkstock(TORONTO) -- Too much salt and too little exercise is hard on the heart, but new research suggests it can be hard on the brain, too.

A three-year study of more than 1,200 people has linked a salty diet and sedentary lifestyle to cognitive decline in old age.

"It's important for people to know there are things you can do to help protect your brains as you're aging," said study author Carol Greenwood, a nutrition scientist and interim director of the Baycrest Kunin-Lunenfeld Applied and Evaluative Research in Toronto.  "You do have some control, and lifestyle is key."

Using data from the Longitudinal Study on Nutrition and Successful Aging, a study of people between the ages of 67 and 84, Greenwood and colleagues found that men and women with the highest daily sodium intake and the lowest level of exercise performed poorer over time on cognitive tests than those with low sodium intake and an active lifestyle.  The findings held up even when the researchers controlled for such factors as education, waist circumference, diabetes and overall diet.

"This is the first study to extend the benefits of low sodium intake to brain health in healthy older adults," the authors wrote in their report published in the Neurobiology of Aging.

The study adds to mounting evidence that too much salt can have serious health consequences.

"The reality is that excess sodium affects not only blood pressure but bone health, and probably cardiac health overall," said Dr. David Katz, director of Medical Studies in Public Health at Yale University.  "And further, it tends to be a marker of an overly processed diet that is itself harmful in a variety of ways."

Replacing processed foods that are naturally high in salt with natural foods such as fruits and vegetables is an easy way to lower salt intake.

Although cutting down on salt is a safe move, staying fit might be the more important factor when it comes to protecting cognition with age.

"People who were physically active were protected, regardless of their sodium intake," said Greenwood.  "What's important is maintaining the integrity of the cardiovascular system, and the benefits of exercise are going to outweigh any negative effects we see with salt."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Study: Unplanned Children Slower to Develop

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(OXFORD, England) -- About half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended -- meaning either mistimed or unwanted at the time of conception.  

By analyzing data for about 12,000 UK children, University of Oxford researchers reported in the British Medical Journal that cognitive development of children born after unplanned pregnancies lagged behind that of “planned” children.  For example, there was a three-to-five month “lag” in verbal abilities in unplanned kids compared to planned ones.  

But once the authors took into account socioeconomic factors, all differences disappeared.  Therefore, the developmental lag is associated with a lower socioeconomic status, an already well-established association.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio