Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Talking Point
Front Page 
World 
UK 
UK Politics 
Business 
Sci/Tech 
Health 
Education 
Entertainment 
Talking Point 
Forum 
In Depth 
AudioVideo 

Wednesday, 3 January, 2001, 11:09 GMT
Is it all downhill after 40?

Psychologists found that people start to slow down mentally in their mid-forties.

The study shows that thinking-speed declines at 45 at a constant rate into old age.

At the same time, experts say older people can rely on their greater experience to compensate for the slowdown in their mental functioning.

Do you feel up to speed? And if not, is greater experience enough to compensate?

HAVE YOUR SAY I first retired when I was 50 in 1976. Since then I have had nine other careers and am still working part-time at three more. I admit I am not doing it solely for money, but to work with people in general. At 75 I am still very active (touch wood) and put it down to being blessed with good health. I used to smoke a packet of cigarettes a day and three or four pints a day. I still enjoy the odd pint and although at times I could murder a cigarette, fortunately quit the habit three years ago. Is life boring? No way - there aren't enough hours in the day for me. At my age, every day is a bonus. Live life to the full, why worry, let your bank manager do that.
John Stewart, Canada


One has to fight constantly against nature's limitations to achieve anything, no matter in what age group one is

Rebecca, HK
People tend to relate experience with age, but fact is, some "old" people have experienced relatively little and their experience pool is shallow. I think it may not be very useful to characterised those over 45 as "slower in thinking, but more experienced". I do think this depends on individuals and one has to fight constantly against nature's limitations to achieve anything, no matter in what age group one is.
Rebecca, HK

While it is only fair to give psychologists their due there are many exceptions. I am in my late 50s, and until recently (have taken early retirement to be able to spend more time on my personal life) held down a very responsible job, doing many tasks under constant stress and working overtime on most days. Despite this I was very seldom sick, (during 25 years perhaps 4 days off for sickness) and often the young people used to come to me to ask my secret for coping with such responsibilities without having health problems. I do believe the secret lies in strength of character and ability to work hard, and of course to enjoy the work you do and above all, not to be afraid of human contact and solving the day to day problems which do arise in our lives today.
Rose Waisberg, Belgium

In response to Jan Lewis about the employers not looking at the 40+ crowd. These corporate types don't want the competition. Many of them are so insecure with themselves, they need that zombie blank stare to reassure them that they are the supreme being in their respective workplaces. Drive on 40+ people we are here to stay. I am 45 and work in the telecommunication field, honour graduate at 37 in an electronics technology degree course. If you keep learning new things you are building your mind.
Gary Hamilton, USA

Thinking probably does slow down as we get older. What's important is not the speed of thought but the quality of process that supports it. I'm 55 and can't run up stairs as fast as I used to. It is likely I think slower too. This doesn't bother me and I see no reason why it should bother those people on the verge of becoming "older". The champion at my bridge club has poor eyesight, walks with a stick and is in her middle eighties. Her thought processes, however, are razor sharp. Who cares if they take 55 seconds instead of 35?
Richard Buxton, UK

Does slow thinking automatically mean superficial? I do not think so. There is more to thinking than speed. Experience, wisdom, will, stability, vision are the qualities which does not necessarily depend on age. Is it better to come up with a quick decision or with a wise one? There is too much emphasis these days on intelligence, but it is obvious that intelligence alone, without love, selflessness and purpose is not enough to have a happy life or build a better world.
Christian Bodhi


A marginally quicker mind is hardly a match for 30 years of knowledge and experience

Tom, USA
I can't understand why such a fuss is made over the obvious whenever the brain is involved. Nobody disputes that, all things being equal, we slow down physically after 40 or so, so why should the brain be different to any other organ? That doesn't mean you can't be mentally fitter at 50 than at 20, any more than it means you can't be physically fitter; it just takes a bit more effort. In any case, a marginally quicker mind is hardly a match for 30 years of knowledge and experience, which might go some way towards explaining why those with the greatest responsibility in any field (government, industry, education, etc) tend to be a good deal closer to 50 than to 20.
Tom, USA

I am now 61 and have recently bought a computer and joined a class for older learners. I have also agreed to edit our village newsletter for which I need to be able to do the design and layout. A few years ago I passed my English Literature 'A' level and passed my entry to Mensa test. Now that we have both retired we have also taken up serious walking to keep fit. Too old? Rubbish.
Sheila Hewitt, England

This 70 year old man is well and truly alive and glad of it. In the Australian phrase "I wouldn't be dead for quids." As a writer the total of my experience outweighs the slowing down of my short-term memory.
David, UK

I am fifty-five and going downhill fast, but it is still one hell of a ride
Richard L. Garner, England

It reminds me of the old joke about the reactions of a young brash bison and his older and wiser companion when they come across a herd of female bison. "Let's run down and grab us a female" shouts the youth. "Let's wander down slowly and grab the lot" replies the veteran.
Joe Ryan, France


My whole life has been a learning curve so who are these fuddy-duddies who say we are over the hill at 40? Remember the old saying, Life begins at 40?

John C., Warwick, England
At the age of 30 I retrained from electronics into electro-mechanics. No problem. At the age of 44 I retrained into computer software. Again, no problem. I have two young children who keep me active and ask a lot of questions which require the brain to be engaged permanently! I believe that when you keep your brain active, it just does not know when to stop. I teach them which means that I am having to remember things I was taught at school back in the '50s! My whole life has been a learning curve so who are these fuddy-duddies who say we are over the hill at 40? Remember the old saying, Life begins at 40? Believe me, it does!
John C., Warwick, England

I'm looking at the issue in a different light. Perhaps this "mental slowing down" is one of the blessings of ageing. Consciousness gradually, gently disentangling itself from a human body-form might hold opportunities for experiencing one's aliveness as intimately and vibrantly as during childhood. Who knows - when the intellect stops spinning 'round and 'round so fast, maybe other kinds of equally valid experience of beingness is finally free to flourish?
Jaimie Bradley, USA

No, this happens at any age depending on an individual and the Insurance Actuaries have proved lately their forecasts are incorrect. This is a new age, people are living longer, have had exceedingly more active lives with lots more interests than before, especially females who have been 'allowed' to almost equalise?
Ms J Morris, England


I find that "younger" people that I work with (I am 43) have the attention span of a walnut and are about as sharp as a sack of wet mice

Kate, USA
It's quality over quantity. I find that "younger" people that I work with (I am 43) have the attention span of a walnut and are about as sharp as a sack of wet mice. Sure, they might be able to "think faster", but I tend to find that there is little quality to their thoughts. They are (as a whole) are rather unknowledgable about both their chosen professions and the world, and generally could care less about anything but their own self gratification.
Kate, USA

In 3 weeks time I will be 47. I agree with the comments that you have more to remember, that's why retrieval of information takes so long. My two teenage daughters don't think I'm past it, otherwise they wouldn't ask me for help with homework. Experience is the key, use what you know, common sense and experience can help you to learn anything knew. Just keep your mind active, and learn something new every day.
Colin Parry, UK

With regard to the recent study which highlights mental slowdown in the over 45's. I was recently awarded a 2:1 LLB after 4 years study. I am 48, and could not envisage achieving such a goal during my 20's or 30'.
Paul Harris, UK


Age is a state of mind and not a place you go to

Chris Thompson, UK
As someone who has just achieved an Open University Honours degree at 42 and has started an MA at 43, my mental athleticism is increasing rather than diminishing. Age is a state of mind and not a place you go to.
Chris Thompson, UK

Stereotypes created by TV, the newspapers and our political parties are demeaning, disrespectful and completely bogus. Collectivising "the poor", "the young", "the elderly", "ethnic minorities" is meaningless. Worthwhile judgements about people cannot be based on age, sex, colour, religion or any other criterion. Physical and mental ability can only be determined one at a time on an individual basis.
Edward Hyde, USA (Londoner)

I noticed a reduction in certain types of mental acrobatics from the age of 20 to 25 (mostly in mathematics), but while the flexible learning and ability nature to process multiple things at one time has reduced somewhat, the ability to draw on and use the existing knowledge base has increased more than what was lost. Overall the 20 year-old me would be no match for myself today at 42. We'll see what it's like at 50.
George Milton, USA

I am soon to turn 33 and look forward to future motherhood strengthening the already strong bond between myself and my parents. There could not be two people I admire more in the world. My father started learning technical and legal German (from scratch) at 45 and my mother starting learning to play the organ at age 55. I managed to catch them today between their trips abroad and consider myself lucky to do so! I can only wish for such a sharp brain and active life as they are now leading in their mid-sixties.
Marion (ex-pat in US), USA


My brain is more active now than when I was younger

Rob, England
I am 45, work with computers, and my brain is more active now than when I was younger. I don't mean to sound patronising, but some of the "youngsters" nowadays appear like zombies, being either stoned out of their mind, or suffering the after effects of too much drinking! I'm happy just the way I am!
Rob, England

Ummmhhh - How old was Einstein when he received the Nobel Prize? Forty two!
Chris Barlow-Smith, UK

In reply to Robert Kent. Having turned 50 this year I can honestly say I am just as alert as ever and ready to learn new things. Working full time, with not much time to flop in front of the television or the computer definitely helps. I would agree, however, that everyone should take another driving test, preferably every five years from whatever age they started to drive. That would certainly keep the roads a lot clearer!
Margaret Hale, England

It depends on so many other factors besides just age; lifestyle and attitude surely also being major contributors to one's mental prowess. Of course, us older people also have so much more to remember ...
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK


Getting older is not as bad as its cracked up to be

Anthony, England
When I was in my 20's I thought I knew it all, was God's gift to the world, had numerous car accidents and was very quick on the uptake. Now aged 51, I know that I will never even know a fraction of the world's secrets but I have learnt to enjoy life. I now look at a flower and wonder at its beauty, but have no desire to know how it happens. Getting older is not as bad as its cracked up to be.
Anthony, England

I believe the assumption that the older 45 year-old mind is slower has more to do with the stress and clutter of modern day life. With clarity, low stress and the ability to discern ideas, the older mind is better! Talk to some Buddhist Monks and compare!
Malcolm Appelbe, USA (British)

My dad is now 72 and last year he went back to 'school' to learn basic computer skills. Anyone can do it if they put their minds to it, irrespective of age. He may take his time, but he gets there in the end. He is doing so well that, for Christmas, I am installing a modem in his computer. He is very keen to use the Internet. You may be hearing from him soon!
Janet, UK

I am 45 and my firm belief is that most depends on how you use your brain. Most people are forced into a routine which allows the brain to work on override. The ageing process is one of "fighting back": Alistair Cooke and the like are examples to us all.
William Jordan, France


A bit of extra RAM could be quite useful

Fritz Schöne, New Zealand
I am 64, my memory capacity has certainly slowed down over the years. I can however still learn new things, like the Internet, it just takes a bit longer. Forgetfulness is another thing,- I find as long as you know you have forgotten something it's not too bad,- but if you don't know then you really got something to worry about. A bit of extra RAM could be quite useful.
Fritz Schöne, New Zealand

The ageism thing again! I am 47 and I've been using computers since I was 42, and I can do a lot more with them than people half my age. Experience counts for a lot and I certainly don't feel "over the hill". When will employers wake up and realise the 40+ have a lot to offer. Yes I struggled at first when I went to evening classes but that was because I was out of the learning habit, a few classes and I was fine.
Jan Lewis, UK

Let's have some positive stories about the over 40s and their abilities and contribution to employers and society PLEASE !! Don't reinforce the idea that we're unemployable and heading for the margins of society - or people will believe it.
Dave, Belgium (Ex-pat)

Fine - let us all retire at 40 then - suits me!
Sharron, UK


I wouldn't want to have all the doubts and fears I had when I was 25

Deborah Parr, England
I suggest it takes longer for example, to recognise faces just because you KNOW more people! I am much smarter than I was at 20 something and have heaps more confidence. Perhaps one may be faster at some things, but age is a good teacher and I wouldn't want to have all the doubts and fears I had when I was 25 for anything - I'll stick with the slightly creaky knees and the need to write things down (purely because I have more in my head than 20 years ago, of course!)
Deborah Parr, England

When I was 21 I obtained my first degree. I have recently gone back to university at age 41 and I am finding the work much more interesting and much easier to take on board then when I was in my 20's and I'm doing a brand new area of study. Personally, I believe in the adage "Use it or lose it." Use your brain, stretch it, stimulate it and it will serve you well over the years. Neglect your brain, and you will start to lose those mental powers pretty quickly.
Helen, UK

Ability to learn decreases with age? Poppycock! The clear reason is because those of a younger age tend to be more regularly in day to day contact with that which needs to be learnt (see the comment about the dad learning the Internet). Ask those in the 18-24 age group to learn about the Second World War, for example, and see what happens then.
Mike Linsell, England


I still managed to join Mensa last summer

Pascal Jacquemain, UK (French)
Trouble recognising faces? Forgetting why I have come into a room? Oh dear, I'm only 31 and I've been suffering from these problems all my life. I still managed to join Mensa last summer...
Pascal Jacquemain, UK (French)

Everyone here seen the film Logan's Run? I think this is just the proof we needed...
Dunc, UK

It's my 40th birthday today, so I've been getting a lot of stick because of this story! I have recently moved to a new and intellectually challenging job and I certainly cannot handle the great volume of detail I could as a student. My ability to solve problems and explore new concepts now relies on my wider experience and interests than I had 20 years ago.
Mike, UK

People over 45 don't slow down they just know that it is cool to take your time.
Gerry, Scotland


At 41, I'm currently doing an MBA course

Andy Millward, UK
At 41, I'm currently doing an MBA course and thereby relearning how to use my thinking muscles. There is definitely a discipline attached to maximising the effectiveness of brain power. Most of us simply don't try. Moral: exercise the brain as well as the body.
Andy Millward, UK

I don't think my marbles were ever properly sorted from day one. At 54 and working in the oilfield industry I definitely tend to forget things, so I have started writing them down. The only trouble now is locating the piece of paper I wrote it on!!! But working in Brazil, I'm bound to be partially nuts!!!
Derek, ex-pat, Brazil

Challenging mental activity and trying out new things are the key to staying mentally alert. I'm 48, into my 'second life' at university after 22 years in the US Air Force. My current job is demanding, yet totally unrelated to the structured military lifestyle I had grown accustomed to. I now feel more liberated, less fatigued than I did 10 years ago. My humble advice: Jettison the routine, spice up your life! Chess anyone?
Jeff Thieret, USA

Once again we see that when it comes to ageism you can say what you like. If this statement was made on the grounds of gender or race it would be condemned as ignorant bigotry.
Keith, UK


People over 45 should have to retake their driving test

Robert Kent
My father has just reached fifty and frankly, his ability to learn new things (like the internet) has virtually disappeared. People over 45 should have to retake their driving test or have a mental alertness test when operating machinery.
Robert Kent

I work in the IT industry which is traditionally a good area for job opportunities, until you reach the age of 40. This seems to be the cut-off point for employers to accept your worthiness as an employee, and career prospects dry up. I am obviously being unjust in labelling these firms ageist and narrow-minded, as they appear to be a very enlightened bunch. How wrong can you be?
Steve Whalley, UK

When my sock drawer is nearly empty, I can retrieve a pair of socks quickly (young, brain). When it's full, I spend longer locating the perfect pair (older, "learned" brain).
Dave, Uk

I'm just about to turn 26 and have recently been lamenting the way my mind seems to have become 'dullened' of late compared to my wildly creative teens. Reading this may just have given me the kick I needed to get my head out of the sympathy cradle and back into gear - cheers!
Nuveen Kroll, UK


You can slow the process by using your mind more often

B Thompson, UK
Your mind definitely slows down with age. I'm only 32 and I've already noticed my mind is not as quick as it was 10 years ago. I've been doing mathematics and physics all my life, and it takes me a lot longer to perform calculations in my head than it used to. On the other hand, I do have a lot more knowledge and experience than someone 10 years younger. I also think that you can slow the process by using your mind more often. Read more, take up chess or puzzle solving - something purely cerebral that will exercise your mind. Most people don't use their minds very much so its no surprise that after a few decades they become cabbages.
B Thompson, UK

If you take into consideration all the relevant factors, and weigh them against the - er, what was I saying? Can you repeat the question?
Dave, Uk


I am 48 and feel fitter, healthier and more mentally alert than at any time during my life

Andrew Reid, London, UK
I am 48 and feel fitter, healthier and more mentally alert than at any time during my life. I spent much of my youth in a booze and drug fuelled haze. I was fat, lazy and unfit. At age 46 I decided to get into shape (I don't know whether anyone has seen Brad Pit in Fight Club) and am now fitter, better looking and more healthy. It's only now when looking back that I realise much of my youth was wasted.
Andrew Reid, London, UK

Send us your comments:
Name:

Your E-mail Address:


Country:

Comments:

Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
BBC RADIO NEWS
BBC ONE TV NEWS
WORLD NEWS SUMMARY
PROGRAMMES GUIDE
See also:


Links to more Talking Point stories