The timing and degree of change we all experience in our thinking skills varies between each of us. There is certainly no one-size-fits-all. Research suggests there is a range of factors that determine our ageing trajectories. After all, we are all exposed to different lifestyle factors – some that might protect, and some that might harm our cognitive health.
To understand a bit more, we often group our thinking skills into two categories. Those which are fluid develop quickly when we are young, peak in our 20s and then slowly decline. Examples of fluid thinking skills include our speed of processing information (think about how we react to holding a hot pan, for instance) and other tasks that have a time-limited component. The second category is crystallised thinking skills – they develop slower and peak later in life. For example, our word knowledge or other processes that have become rote would be considered crystallised.
Professor Alan Gow from Heriot-Watt University in the UK, and founder of The Ageing Lab, has been researching cognitive decline and lifestyle interventions for many years.
“Our early education, our occupation and work environment, social factors and various other lifestyles and behaviours all play a role in how our cognitive skills develop or change over time,” he says. “For example, whether we smoke or we’ve experienced a brain injury in our lives have been shown to be significant factors in negatively impacting our thinking skills as we age.”