By Dr. Anthony Policastro

There has been much made of the ages of the current Presidential candidates and their cognitive skills.

Cognitive skills are indeed important. However, people sometimes think there is an overall decline in all abilities with age. That is not the case.

Overall knowledge tends to remain constant over time. With the exception of patients with dementia, we tend not to forget things that we know.

Experience memory also tends to remain constant. Thus the lessons that individuals have learned over the years tend to stay with them as they age.

There are some areas that do seem to decline over the course of time. One of those is something called processing speed. This is the speed with which you use information to make a decision.

Visual processing allows us to react to things we see. It is therefore a component of driving skill. Auditory processing allows us to react to things we hear. Motor speed is related to how quickly we can respond to things from a motor standpoint.

Another is working memory. It is a skill related to using information that we are currently dealing with. You can almost compare it to a post-it note in the brain that allows you to use recently presented information.

Children have learning disabilities in a specific area. They do not have problems learning in all areas. Changes that occur when we age tend to occur in specific areas. There is not an overall decline that is often assumed to occur. We continue to excel in some areas. We tend to have lesser skills in other areas.

In addition, individuals tend to vary in terms of the areas in which they experience the issues. Some may have processing speed issues. Others may have working memory issues. Still others will have both.

There has been recent research suggesting that healthy lifestyles can offset the changes. That is why we should all be interested in remaining healthy as we age.

Last month I wrote about neuropsychological testing for learning disorders one week and for dementia the following week. We sometimes tend to focus on little things and draw general conclusions. Without any specific testing, our conclusions are nothing more than speculation. Aging and the mind have a very complex relationship.