Why is Grandma’s brain slower? She knows way too much


German researchers are challenging decades of cognitive testing results, disputing the notion that your grandma’s healthy brain is in a state of decline just because she’s getting older.

Adulthood, they say, is not one long journey into the abyss where  “memories dim … and problem-solving abilities diminish.”

Your aging brain is like a computer database filling up with knowledge, researchers at Tübingen University hypothesize. As the information accumulates, it takes more time to process, as it would in a computer stuffed with apps, photos, spreadsheets and word documents.

“The human brain works slower in old age,” says Michael Ramscar, the lead author of the study published this month in Topics in Cognitive Science, “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.”

The researchers reveal flaws in standard cognitive tests and used computer models crammed with more and more words to verify their results.

“Forget about forgetting,” says researcher Peter Hendrix. “If I wanted to get the computer to look like an older adult, I had to keep all the words it learned in memory and let them compete for attention.”

The researchers acknowledge that neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s do damage, but conclude “there is no neurobiological evidence for any declines in healthy older adults.”

Read more at Ramscar’s new blog and in Tübingen University’s press release.

h/t National Geographic