Older woman looking down, sad, stressed

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LOS ANGELES — Women begin to lose their “mental sharpness” in their 50s, earlier than previous research had suggested.

Researchers at UCLA studied 2,124 healthy women for 10 years after experiencing menopause and they found that the average decline in mental processing ability was 5 percent during the study period. Cognitive processing speed, which includes speed of perception and reaction, showed an average decline of around 1 percent every two years. Verbal memory declined on average around 1 percent every five years, according to a UCLA release.

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, sought to look at whether cognitive decline occurred in women under 60 because previous studies hadn’t consistently documented women in this age group. Prior evidence pointed to consistent decline in older women.

The participants were asked to recall elements of a paragraph read to them immediately after and then again 10 minutes later. They were also asked to repeat strings of single-digit numbers backwards during each testing period over the 10-year trial.

Ultimately, the study found “good new evidence of cognitive aging in women in midlife, with significant longitudinal declines in both processing speed and verbal memory,” the authors wrote. The decline did not appear to be linked to menopause, but simply part of the aging process.

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