Exercising the Brain to Avoid Cognitive Decline

Examining the Evidence

William E Reichman; Alexandra J Fiocco; Nathan S Rose


Aging Health. 2010;6(5):565-584. 

In This Article

Normal Aging & Cognition

Different types of cognitive abilities tend to be grouped into categories or domains which vary in the extent of age-related change. Table 1 provides a rough summary of age-related changes in different domains of cognition. Although theorists debate about the amount of overlap between different cognitive abilities, some researchers have characterized a general pattern of age-related changes in cognition in terms of crystallized and fluid intelligence.[5] Fluid intelligence is the ability to analyze and solve novel problems, independent of acquired knowledge. It includes problem-solving skills, abstract reasoning, learning and working memory, and is more susceptible to aging compared with crystallized intelligence (Cf).[6] Cf refers to the ability to use acquired skills and knowledge through educational and cultural experiences. It includes the ability to formulate general knowledge/information, vocabulary, reading comprehension, analogies and the ability to reason using words and numbers. Whereas Cf is either stable with age or may actually continue to improve over time, fluid intelligence may be especially vulnerable to aging.[6]

Although a number of cognitive domains have been characterized, fervent debate continues regarding the distinction between the domains, the type and magnitude of age-related changes experienced within each domain and the underlying mechanisms for such change. Regarding pathological forms of aging, it is important to consider how different cognitive functions are affected in similar ways as normal aging or whether certain functions are uniquely affected by disease.