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Youth May Fade, but Ability to Learn Does Not

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Are you terrible at remembering names? Are you worried it may be a sign of becoming older, or even worse, the onset of dementia? Worry not, my friends. Scientists at MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital are discovering that our ability to reason, learn, and recall information changes over our lifetime. In fact, some things get better as we age.

The scientists collected data from nearly 50,000 people who had been asked to perform several tasks. Study participants completed multiple-choice vocabulary tests, recalled numbers and symbols, and recognized facial emotions by looking only at the eyes.

The results are promising for us worry warts. Different skills peak at different ages.

The age group most successful at recalling a number associated with a symbol (akin to putting a name with a face) was the late teens. So give yourself a break at the next company party when you can't remember your boss's wife's name.

The teenagers were outdone by 40-60 year olds when it came to discerning emotions based solely on looking at a person's eyes. Perhaps we can chalk that up to life experience.

Even better news from the study came in the discovery that our vocabulary skills peak later in life and don't begin to decline until well in our 60s. The study credits this with an increased older workforce in white-collar jobs that require reading. Or perhaps retirees finally have time to enjoy a good book and a crossword puzzle.

It's also important to remember that we each age in our own way, and if you ever find yourself worried about your own cognitive ability, or that of a loved one, talk to your doctor.  ​

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