We don’t need science to tell us that we lose some of our sharpness and wit as we age. Most have experienced first hand the slow decline in cognitive faculties that occurs when one moves on from their more youthful years and into their 40’s. Scientifically speaking the decline is thought to begin around the age of 45 and one’s mental abilities peak sometime in their 20’s. The severity of one’s cognitive decline depends on the individual but the fact remains it is always there waiting and for some elderly folks it can be a real issue, even a detriment to their quality of life.
Cognitive Enhancer for the Elderly
An aspect of mental decline that can affect our daily lives with dramatic effect is known as working memory. Working memory degrades as one moves into their elderly years and is very much responsible for task related problems the elderly have. What exactly does this memory function allow for? It allows us to remember small bits of information and process these bits into a whole.
The idea behind this cognitive function is to allow a person to put the pieces of the puzzle together pertaining to actions related to daily activities. An example of how the degradation of working memory would apply to an elderly person would be to imagine them picking up their keys from the coffee table, putting said keys into their pocket, going outside and locking the door behind them, going for a walk, and then finally returning to their home. Now, let’s say that this elderly person returned to their home just fine but is now faced with a locked door of which they must unlock and perhaps they forgot where they put their keys.
Working memory is essential in this scenario because they must remember where they have placed the keys (their pocket) in order to once again enter their home. Ideally, this elderly person’s mind would have visually processed the keys entering their pocket, embedded this memory, and finally integrated this into their short task (going for a walk and returning home to a locked door). It’s situations like this that can present a real problem for elderly individuals.
Researchers are working hard to make sure that there are drug therapies available to elderly individuals facing cognitive decline such as the degradation of working memory. Recent research has shown that a certain neurotransmitter, GABA, may play a crucial role in mental decline. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter meaning that it is the calming agent of the brain. Drugs such as benzodiazepines and ethanol work to increase baseline levels of GABA (among other mechanisms of action) with the net effect being a calmer and anxiety free state of mind for the individual using these substances.
The researchers contributing to this study used rats to determine how GABA played a role in cognitive decline. They found that rats with mental decline showed highers levels of GABA as well as GABA receptors. When the researchers administered a GABA receptor antagonist (blocking effect) to the older rats with memory issues the effect was a restoration of working memory to the same level as younger rats.
The most interesting aspect of this research is the reassurance that their are reliable agents being developed for elderly people with cognitive decline. Time waits for no man and we will all enter a point in our lives where this decline will become relevant. For some individuals this will be severe and such is the need for cognitive enhancing drugs for any shot at a meaningful life during the last chapter.
Another interesting point to bring up is that there are other experimental drugs known as nootropics that manipulate GABA receptors as the drug in this research did. These drugs, nootropics as they’re often called, work to increase one’s cognitive capacity and are the essence of enhancing cognition. They are highly sought after by individuals looking for a mental edge whether it be a creative pursuit, academic, work related, or even just a test of what the mind can achieve. In addition to working on GABA these drugs manipulate acetylcholine and dopamine among other neurotransmitters and are even a testament to what current researchers are doing in the field of cognitive decline relating to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.