Skip to content
Please donate

New light shed on cognitive ageing

Published on 05 June 2013 10:30 AM

New research has challenged the link between how well your brain works in old age and the thickness of the brain's cerebral cortex - often known colloquially as 'grey matter'.


Until now, scientists believed that preserving the thickness of this 'grey matter' - scientifically known as the cerebral cortex - was a determining factor for those who retained superior cognitive ability in old age.

The cerebral cortex is the outermost sheet of neural tissue of the brain and plays a key role in memory, attention, perceptual awareness, thought and language.

However, a new analysis of standardised intelligence tests suggests other possible factors may be at work.

Your brain in childhood affects your cognitive ability in later life

According to a new study, the way your brain works as a child accounts for more than two-thirds of the link between cognitive ability and how thick your grey matter is in old age, according to a study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

Researchers compared the results of standardised intelligence tests on 588 people, taken when the subjects were 11 years old and again when they were 70.

The results were examined alongside MRI brain scans taken when the participants turned 73, although those with dementia were excluded from the analysis.

The study was carried out in partnership between the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, McGill University, The Neuro, and the University of Edinburgh

The article's lead authors, Dr Sherif Karama at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, and Dr Ian Deary of the University of Edinburgh, found clear evidence to suggest a 'lifelong association' between cortical thickness and cognitive ability.

Age UK is the lead funder of the Disconnected Mind project. For more information about it, visit

Share this page

Last updated: Dec 05 2018

Become part of our story

Sign up today

Back to top