Mental aging and the loss of one’s cognition were long seen as an inevitable decline of the aging process in “late adulthood”. The period of aging known as “late adulthood” is regarded to start at 65 years of age, which interestingly enough is the retirement age in the United States. However, recent studies have denounced the idea of the inevitability of mental decline by publishing groundbreaking research results. These findings highlight that aging does not inherently implicate a loss of the functions of the mental mechanisms, but rather utilizing them can resist cognitive decline (Sward, 1945) and even reverse it (Schaie, 1993). Thus, strongly suggesting that late adulthood does not automatically qualify an individual for mental decline.
By utilizing such findings as a theoretical framework, some researchers have begun investigating what differentiates individuals in terms of aging and mental decline. Supporting this idea is a hypothesis that mental decline will be more prominent in people who do not exercise their cognitive mechanism, thus the phrase “use it or lose it”. Essentially, participating in regular brain exercises can have positive effects in helping people maintain and even improve mental abilities. Supporting this hypothesis is research done by Schaie (1993), which discovered that elders who were given some sort of brain training could, overtime, maintain and even improve their cognitive performance. Contrary to popular belief, Schaie (1993) also emphasizes that the plasticity of the human brain, specifically intelligence, is continuously adapting and restructuring itself in order to adjust to the aging process. Fundamentally, these findings highlight the causal relationship between a favorable amount of active physical, engagement in social networks, mental stimulation and the sustainability of cognitive mechanisms.
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