I always thought that the memory of the over 70s are likely to be on the decline. However, we are now told that for people of a certain age the cryptic crossword maybe about to get easier. The over 70s can expect to be at the top of their game for remembering things when the autumn equinox comes at the end of the month. The effect is like being almost five years younger, a study has found, and appears to last from late September till early October. Scientists made the discovery after finding that memory and problem-solving skills change throughout the year.
The study, led by researchers at the University of Toronto, involved more than 3,300 older people taking extensive memory tests. It found performance peaked in late summer and early autumn, then slowly declining and hitting rock bottom in late winter and early spring. Levels of genes and proteins linked to Alzheimer’s disease followed the same pattern. The bad news for the over 70s is that their memory may be at its worst in late March and early April, when they are almost a third more likely to be diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment or dementia, according to the study.
In some cases this could cause older people to be misdiagnosed with memory problems only to see the issue reversed by autumn. Researchers suggest the cold and the dark may make people live more unhealthily during winter, affecting the brain and causing thinking skills to decline.
Dr Andrew Lim, the study lead author, said: ‘Our suspicion is that changes in seasons in light, temperature and social schedules may see people getting less physical activity, eating more poorly or changing sleeping patterns. This may affect the way genes and proteins are expressed in the brain, causing the difference in how someone’s memory works. Vitamin D may also be important.’
Participants, who had an average age of 77, were given a series of memory tests and their performance was compared across the seasons of the year. Results changed most for working memory involving recall of strings of numbers and executive function, which entailed decoding symbols linked to numbers.
Adults both with and without dementia showed the same memory patterns throughout the year. Dr Lim said: ‘This study has implications for clinicians as we could advise people to get more exercise, eat better or take vitamin D at certain times of the year to boost memory.’
The study was published in the journal PLOS Medicine. To my mind, it goes to indicate how old age has its problems. Memory is perhaps the most intricate, for the discomfort and embarrassment it creates, especially where the names of people are concerned. But you simply have to live with it,