I’m Not Losing It, I’m Just More Worldly Than The Rest Of You

Good news, old people. You’re not actually slow-minded and forgetful. You just have trouble remembering things because you know so much stuff.

“The human brain works slower in old age,” said Dr. Michael Ramscar, “but only because we have stored more information over time

“The brains of older people do not get weak. On the contrary, they simply know more.”

A team at Tübingen University in Germany programmed a computer to read a certain amount each day and learn new words and commands.

When the researchers let a computer “read” only so much, its performance on cognitive tests resembled that of a young adult.

But if the same computer was exposed to the experiences we might encounter over a lifetime – with reading simulated over decades – its performance now looked like that of an older adult.

Often it was slower, but not because its processing capacity had declined. Rather, increased “experience” had caused the computer’s database to grow, giving it more data to process – which takes time.

I’m hardly a brain scientist, but that does make sense. I can feel it happening in my own life. When I was younger, I could remember almost every little thing about everything I did and everyone I met. But now, pushing my mid 30’s, that’s not so easy. Part of that surely has to do with the damage done by the years of sleeping like absolute shite and I can feel that getting better as that situation improves, but part of it I’ll say with near certainty is that I’ve simply done more things. It gets especially difficult when I’ve done the same thing with the same people over and over again. I’ll find myself mixing up which time something or other happened, and I know I’m far from the only one who does that.

And this bit is particularly interesting.

And researchers say some cognitive tests which are used to study mental capacity may inadvertently favour young people.

A cognitive test called ‘paired associated learning’ invites people to remember a pair of words that are unrelated like ‘necktie’ and ‘cracker.’

Studies have shown that young people are better at this test, but scientists think that older people struggle to remember nonsense pairs – like ‘necktie’ and ‘cracker’ – because they have learned that they never go together.

Prof. Harald Baayen, who heads the Alexander von Humboldt Quantitative Linguistics research group where the work was carried out said: “The fact that older adults find nonsense pairs harder to learn than young adults simply demonstrates older adults’ much better understanding of language.

“They have to make more of an effort to learn unrelated word pairs because, unlike the youngsters, they know a lot about which words don’t belong together.”

My experiences with the web’s various social platforms have me questioning this somewhat, but it does seem logical. It’s definitely a topic that could do with further investigating.

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4 Comments

  1. Brown, chair…honesty?

    Now I have everyone confused.

    When my grandma was in the hospital and they were doing all kinds of tests on her to see how her mental capacity was, one of them was one of these word doohickers. They told her to remember the words brown, chair and honesty. Then they talked about a bunch of the words, and then asked her again at the end. I remember her saying “I could remember brown and chair…but…honesty…oh dear…then it came to me.” I thought that was a ridiculous word trio, and who knows how many that test is screwing over, diagnosing with who knows what when maybe it’s not a good test at all.

    Even I, who people call the elephant, am forgetting things…although I think when I get old, my human CPU is going to do what a Braille ‘N’ speak does when its battery has been let get too low. Everything I know will just meld together into an undiscernable memory soup and nothing will make sense anymore.

    1. Your grandma’s brown chair honesty test was the first thing I thought of when I read that, but figured I’d let you tell that story in case I messed up any of the details. But in her case I never did think that test was fair. She was going through so much on the physical side of things that there was, in my mind at least, a pretty solid chance that her mental abilities would be impacted negatively even if there was normally nothing wrong with them. It’s good that there might be some science to back this up now.

      1. And those arseholes would wake her up from a dead sleep and ask her to spell world backwards, draw a clock face. Look, smarty-pants. If someone woke you up out of a dead sleep and asked you to spell world backwards you probably wouldn’t do well either. That whole thing made me mad. And now the shit they’re pulling…people who do assessments…they should be assessed for cognitive abilities…*stops ranting*

        1. You wake me out of a dead enough sleep, you could ask me to spell A backwards and I’ll screw it up. I don’t even understand the basis for a test like that.

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