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December 2006 Issue
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Quick mind delays ageing


What makes one person age faster than another? Nutrition and lifestyle certainly come into play but there's another factor that is just as important, according to Psychology researcher Tess Gregory.

It appears that a quick mind is a key predictor in ageing.

Ms Gregory completed the research for her PhD in late October and presented her findings to the Emerging Researchers in Ageing Conference in Sydney on November 21.

Her thesis examined two major areas of research: physiological changes in the ageing process (blood pressure, sight, height, weight, strength) and cognitive abilities (general knowledge, vocabulary, problem solving).

A study of 127 elderly people (aged 70+ years) over an 18-month period revealed that the time it took them to process simple tasks was a reliable indicator of how they performed in other areas. Speed of processing measured at the beginning of the project and change in speed across six months helped to predict the extent of cognitive decline.

This is the first biomarker study that has investigated speed of processing tasks that did not rely on reaction time, Ms Gregory said.

"My results show that physiological measures alone are not a reliable indicator in ageing."

The elderly people involved in the study completed questionnaires about diet, life satisfaction, motivation, daily activities and health. It also took into consideration simple tests to determine vocabulary, general knowledge, memory, speed of thought, reasoning and paying attention. Physiological factors such as height, weight, blood pressure and hand strength were also measured.

Professor Ted Nettelbeck, Head of the School of Psychology, and Dr Carlene Wilson, Senior Research Scientist from the CSIRO, supervised Ms Gregory, who completed an undergraduate degree in Maths and Computer Science, majoring in Statistics and Psychology, before doing her Honours and PhD.

Story by Candy Gibson

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Psychology researcher Tess Gregory
Photo by Candy Gibson

Psychology researcher Tess Gregory
Photo by Candy Gibson

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