How human cognition changes as we age

Researchers at MIT conducted a study on how and when cognitive change occurs over a life span. They quizzed thousands of people ages 10 to 90. They tested their ability to do things like remember lists of words, recognize faces, learn names, and do math. Their results revealed considerable differences as to when cognitive abilities peak.

"The younger, we remember better the details of a text but we are not so good in getting to the gist of it," said Dr. Ursula Staudinger, the director of the Columbia Aging Center at Columbia University. "And so this shows you that there are different strengths and weaknesses as we get through life and it's not so easy to say when we are young we are all perfect and when we are old we don't have anything."

Staudinger said our brain has two major components. One, the knowledge and experience we gain as we move through life.

"We learn in school, we learn at our job, we learn just being alive," Staudinger said. "And the other component has very much to do with the biology of our brain -- the number of nerves cells, how well they are connected, how fast the electric impulses get transported through our brain."

As we get older our knowledge and experience get more and more independent of the basic biology of our brain, according to Staudinger.

"So we get very good in vocabulary, in reading, in comprehending, in making inferences and we are less able to be really quick and we are less able to process multiple pieces of information at the same time," she said. "

Staudinger said age is just a number. She said people of the same age differ widely on what they can and cannot do.