Genes may help brains age better

24 January 2012

Taking advantage of an unusual database, researchers have been able to estimate the influence genes have on changes in our cognitive ability over a lifetime.  
 
The database holds results of intelligence tests taken by a cohort of over 65 year olds in Scotland. What makes the database special is that it also holds results from intelligence tests sat by the same participants as children, providing a rare insight into cognitive change over a lifetime.  
 
Analysis of the DNA provided by participants alongside the intelligence test results shows genes may influence 24% of changes in our intellectual performance as we age.  While the environment asserts a greater influence, genes  may help some brains age better than others.

The findings come with a health warning – the sample size is too small to provide statistical significance.  However, the Scottish study gives points to avenues worthy of further exploration once data from larger long-term studies, such as the UK National Survey of Health and Development, become available.